They were wives, daughters, and mothers. They were pioneers, professionals, and hard-workers. They were strong, physically and emotionally. They were rescuers, saviors, and champions. They were female lighthouse keepers, the women who cared for the lights of lighthouses, and kept them burning.
These women not only cared for the lights, but also cared for their families, the home, visitors, people they rescued. They did household chores, cooked, cleaned. They polished brass, painted, and took care of animals and gardens. Most importantly they made sure the lights that guided those at sea to safety were constantly lit, and the fog bells constantly sounding as needed.
Some were daughters who cared for the lights when their fathers could not return to the lights due to weather. Some were wives who cared for the lights after their husbands went off to fight in wars, became ill, or passed away. Some women started out as assistant keepers. Of these, many continued on to care for the lights because it then became their passion, their desire, their career.
Many of these female lighthouse keepers were officially recognized, receiving a keeper’s appointment. In fact, 144 women between 1830 and 1947 received official lighthouse keeper appointments. “Most of these women served in the 19th century, when the keeper lit a number of lamps in the tower at dusk, replenished their fuel or replaced them at midnight, and every morning polished the lamps and lanterns to keep their lights shining brightly.”(*1)
These women were important people who made sure those at sea were safe. Some even did daring rescues of sailors from capsized or wrecked ships. Some lived in harsh and dangerous conditions, survived through storms and hurricanes, and resided in remote and isolated places. However, they persevered through.
I’ve read several books about these women who cared for the lights. I’ve also read some books written by women who experienced life at lighthouses, as wives and daughters of lighthouse keepers.
I also recently saw an award-winning independent film, “To Keep the Light.” The main character, inspired by true stories, is a composite character of many female lighthouse keepers “giving voice to their largely unknown experience.” Erica Fae not only wrote the film, but also directed, produced, and starred in the film. Ms. Fae writes that these women “were trailblazers, embodying feminism long before the word existed and far afield from the urban, intellectual circles that spawned the women’s rights movement.”(*2)
I am intrigued by these women, female lighthouse keepers, amazed and awestruck by their strength, courage, sacrifices, successes, and desires. I often wonder what their daily lives were truly like even though I’ve read books and saw the film. I sometimes wonder if I was a female lighthouse keeper in a previous life. I wonder if I would have had the ability, bravery, wisdom, stamina, heart, and spirit to be a woman who cared for the lights of lighthouses.
Quote (*1) from “Women Who Kept the Lights, An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers” by Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford.
Some information obtained from above book and from “Mind the Light, Katie, The History of Thirty-Three Female Lighthouse Keepers” also by Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford.
Quote (*2) and five photos are from the independent film by Erica Fae, “To Keep The Light.” Note that I saw the film at the Vancouver (Canada) International Film Festival where I also had the honor of meeting Erica Fae.
Click on all five books for links to Amazon.