This past Thursday in the Agnes G. Doody Auditorium in Swan Hall, the first official screening of an upcomingÂ documentary, “Ida Lewis: Keeper of the Light” was held.
The filmÂ is a biography detailing the life of Ida Lewis, a lighthouse keeper from Rhode Island who became famous for her numerous rescues over the years as the keeper of the former Lime Rock LightÂ in Newport. The documentary was directed by Marian Gagnon, a professor in the school of Arts and Sciences at Johnson & Wales University and a former graduate of the University of Rhode Island.
Lewis was born in Newport, R.I.Â in 1842. She was the daughter of Hosea Lewis, a captain in the Revenue Cutter Service, an enforcement service who later became part of the U.S. Coast Guard. Hosea was soon appointed as the keeper of Lime Rock Light,Â but just four months after he started this job, he suffered a stroke. In order to help her father as well asÂ the rest ofÂ her family, Ida began to take over his role as the lighthouse’s keeper. Also, because the area of Lime Rock was entirely surrounded by water, she soon became the best swimmer in all of Newport.
In the fall of 1858, Ida performed her first rescue when she saved four young men whose boat had capsized while traveling between Fort Adams and Lime Rock. ElevenÂ years later, her most notable rescue occurred on March 29, 1869. She rescued two soldiers who were traveling to Fort Adams with the help of a local boy when their boat overturned (unfortunately, the boy ended up lost in the river). The two soldiers ended up giving Ida a gold watch and after the rescue becameÂ publicized, she received a gold congressional medal for lifesaving, becoming the first woman to ever receive this award.
Now known as the “Bravest Woman in America,”Â Lewis continued to serve as Lime Rock Light’s keeper and is credited as having saved 18 lives, although some reports claim she had possibly saved up to 36 lives. But while she was now one of the most famous people in America at the time, she maintained a strong sense of class and dignity, doing her work and thinking of others before herself.
Lewis died in October 1911 after she had becomeÂ falling ill. In 1924, Rhode Island officially renamed Lime Rock “Ida Lewis Rock”Â in her honor andÂ the lighthouse was renamed the “Ida Lewis Lighthouse.”Â It’s currently the only honor of this magnitude that has ever beenÂ paid to a U.S.Â lighthouse keeper.