Ms. Idawalley Zorada
Lewis was Newport Harbor's Lime Rock Lighthouse keeper. Lime
Rock Lighthouse became Ida Lewis Lighthouse and in 1928 became
the Club house for The Ida Lewis Yacht Club.
Ida, she was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1842. Her father,
Captain Hosea Lewis, was a coast pilot whose health was declining.
In 1853 he became the first keeper of nearby Lime Rock beacon
on a tiny island a third of a mile from the shore of Newport.
Hosea Lewis had been at Lime Rock less than four months when
he was stricken by a disabling stroke. Like many wives and
daughters of lighthouse keepers before and after, Ida expanded
her domestic duties, now increased by the care of her invalid
father and a seriously ill sister, to include the care of the
light - filling the lamp with oil at sundown and again at midnight,
trimming the wick, polishing the carbon off the reflectors,
extinguishing the light at dawn.
Lime Rock was completely surrounded by water, the only way
to reach the mainland was by boat. In the mid-19th century
it was highly unusual for a woman to handle a boat, but Ida,
the oldest of four children, rowed her siblings to school every
week day and fetched needed supplies from the town. The wooden
boat was heavy, but she became very skillful in handling it.
(An article in Harper's Weekly, written after Ida had made
several daring rescues, debated whether it was "feminine" for
women to row boats, but concluded that none but a "donkey" would
consider it "unfeminine" to save lives.) Ida was
also reputed to be the best swimmer in all Newport.
and her mother tended the Lime Rock Light for her father from
1857 until 1872, when he died. Her mother was appointed keeper
until 1879, although Ida continued to do the keeper's work.
Then Ida received the official appointment and her own salary
($500 a year). She continued at her post until her own death
in 1911. On the night of her death the bells on all the vessels
anchored in Newport Harbor were tolled in her memory. Because
of her many rescues, Ida Lewis became the best-known lighthouse
keeper of her day.
her 39 years on Lime Rock, Ida is credited with saving 18 lives,
although unofficial reports suggest the number may have been
as high as 25. Ida's fame spread quickly after the 1869 rescue,
for a reporter was sent from the New York Tribune to record
her deeds. Articles also appeared in Harper's Weekly, Leslie's
magazine, and other leading newspapers. The Life Saving Benevolent
Association of New York sent her a silver medal and a check
for $100--a substantial sum to a young woman who then earned
$600 a year. A parade was held in her honor in Newport on Independence
Day, followed by the presentation of a sleek mahogany rowboat
with red velvet cushions, gold braid around the gunwales, and
she was 64, Ida became a life beneficiary of the Carnegie Hero
Fund, receiving a monthly pension of $30. Tales of Ida Lewis's
skill and courage spread so widely that both President Ulysses
S. Grant (1867-1877) and Vice President Schuyler Colfax went
to visit her in 1869. Colfax went out to the lighthouse to
meet her, but there are two versions of Ida's meeting with
President Grant. One says that as Grant landed on Lime Rock,
he stepped into water and got his feet wet. "I have come
to see Ida Lewis," he remarked, "and to see her I'd
get wet up to my armpits if necessary." The other version
states that Ida rowed to shore and was conducted to the President's
carriage to meet him and his wife. Fame brought countless other
visitors to the island to stare at Ida. Her wheelchair-bound
father entertained himself by counting their numbers often
a hundred a day; nine thousand in one summer alone.
also received numerous gifts, letters, and even proposals of
marriage (some of them offering to supply references as to
good character). Ida was distressed by all the attention and
fended off her many unknown admirers as best she could. Although
few details are known, she did marry a Captain William Wilson
of Black Rock, Connecticut, in 1870, but they separated after
two years. In 1881 the Annual Report of the U.S. Life Saving
Service reported that the highest medal awarded by the Life
Saving Service had been presented to Mrs. Ida Lewis-Wilson.
last recorded rescue occurred when she was 63 years old. A
close friend, rowing out to the lighthouse, stood up in her
boat, lost her balance and fell overboard. Ida, with all the
vigor of her past youth, launched a lifeboat and hauled the
woman aboard. In 1924 the Rhode Island legislature officially
changed the name of Lime Rock to Ida Lewis Rock. The lighthouse
service changed the name of the Lime Rock Lighthouse to the
Ida Lewis Lighthouse--the only such honor ever paid to a keeper.
In 1995, a new class of Coast Guard buoy tenders was named
for Ida Lewis; each succeeding vessel in the class will honor
a different lighthouse keeper.