She Was 12 When She Saved Her First Life…Happy 175th Birthday to Lightkeeper Ida Lewis!

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Art by Lydia Nichols.


“Lewis made her first rescue in 1854, coming to the assistance of four men whose boat had capsized. She was 12 years old…

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Her most famous rescue occurred on March 29, 1869. Two soldiers, Sgt. James Adams and Pvt. John McLaughlin, were passing through Newport Harbor toward Fort Adams in a small boat, guided by a 14-year-old boy who claimed to know his way through the harbor. A snowstorm was churning the harbor’s waters, and the boat overturned. The two soldiers clung to it, while the boy was lost in the icy water. Lewis’s mother saw the two in the water and called to Ida, who was suffering from a cold. Ida ran to her boat without taking the time to put on a coat or shoes. With the help of her younger brother, she was able to haul the two men into her boat and bring them to the lighthouse. One of them later gave a gold watch to Lewis, and for her heroism she became the first woman to receive a gold Congressional medal for lifesaving. The soldiers at Fort Adams showed their appreciation by collecting $218 for her.

Because of her many rescues, Lewis became the best-known lighthouse keeper of her day. During her 54 years on Lime Rock, she is credited with saving 18 lives, although unofficial reports suggest the number may have been as high as 25… ”

(Wikipedia)

From Google Doodle blog February 25, 2017:

‘It wasn’t until perhaps my fourth or fifth visit to the littlest state of Rhode Island that I spotted the unassuming lighthouse nestled on a tiny island of its own in Newport’s harbor. Usually the title “lighthouse keeper” conjures images of men in beards wearing stiff blue coats, so I was absolutely delighted to learn that Rhode Island’s most famous lighthouse keeper was Idawalley Zorada Lewis. Declared “America’s Bravest Woman” before her tenure was through, Ida had been hailed as Newport’s best swimmer and one of its strongest rowers ever since taking over for her ill father as as guardian of the harbor. She made her first save at twelve and didn’t stop until the age of sixty-three.I

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There are no definitive records of Ida’s rescues and she was too modest to recount them herself, though some were documented in local newspapers and at least one garnered national attention; in February of 1881 she ventured into the bitter winter winds to rescue two soldiers who had fallen through the ice while traveling on foot. This act of bravery caught the attention of President Grant who shortly thereafter awarded her the prestigious Gold Lifesaving Medal. Eleven years after her death, the Rhode Island legislature voted to rename her former home, Lime Rock Lighthouse, as Ida Lewis Lighthouse in her honor.

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It’s important to remember that being a lighthouse keeper required unwavering courage, sheer physical strength, constant diligence, and a willingness to put one’s own life on the line. Ida was so dedicated that supposedly she would rush into inclement weather without shoes or coat so as not a waste a single second. Her life and legacy were not only an honor to research and illustrate, but truly a source of inspiration.’

(Photos/Art: Wikipedia; Google Doodle)

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