Today’s Google doodle celebrates the 175th birthday of Ida Lewis, a native Newport lighthouse keeper who was hailed as “America’s Bravest Woman” for the numerous lives she saved from drowning.
As the owner of the Lime Rock Lighthouse, Ida Lewis made her first save at the age of 12 and continued braving into the Newport harbor’s cold waters to save drowning men and women well into her sixties.
Ida Lewis is one of the most famous people to have ever served in the Coast Guard or in the case, the U.S. Lighthouse Service, one of the Coast Guard’s predecessors. She gained national notoriety during a time when most women in the United States were not in the professional workforce nor on the national stage. She overcame the biases of the time, through skill and professional ability, to become the official keeper of the Lime Rock Light Station, a position she held until her death.
She met a president, Ulysses S. Grant, a Vice-President, Schuyler Colfax, made the cover of Harper’s Weekly, a national publication, in 1869, was featured in stories in Putnam’s Magazine and The New York Tribune, and received accolades and awards from around the country. Surprisingly, most of the attention was not due to her first-rate skills and abilities as a lightkeeper but rather for her abilities as a life-saver. In fact, she was known as “The Bravest Woman in America,” a title bestowed upon her by the Society of the American Cross of Honor. Light keepers were frequently asked to risk their lives to saved the shipwrecked or others in danger of drowning and Ida Lewis did just that countless times and received the nation’s highest award for lifesaving. She was an expert small boat handler and was quite skilled with oars. Indeed, she could “row a boat faster than any man in Newport.”
She was officially credited with saving 18 lives during her 39 years at Lime Rock and was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.