Amazing Story of One Lighthouse Keeper

During the late 1860s, one of the most famous women in America was not a singer or actress or writer—she was a lighthouse keeper.

Commemorative Panel

A must for every collector and every lighthouse enthusiast, this commemorative panel features all five of the New England Coastal Lighthouses (Forever®) stamps. Click the image for details.

Idawalley Zorada Lewis, born in 1842, lived with her family on Lime Rock Light in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island. Her father was the official keeper, but due to his ill health, his duties many times fell to his teenage daughter. She was one of thousands of women—wives or daughters of keepers or keepers in their own right—who lived and worked on the lonely and isolated light stations along the coasts. But what made Ida a national celebrity was her indomitable courage in saving the lives of people who had been swept into the sea.

The rescue that brought Ida to national attention happened in March 1869. Sick with a severe cold, Ida raced into freezing waters to help passengers whose boat had capsized. Battling the towering waves, she guided her lifeboat to the struggling soldiers and pulled them aboard. The story of her dramatic and selfless action, along with her portrait, appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country, prompting an outpouring of attention in the form of visits from the rich and famous—everyone from the Astors and Vanderbilts to President Ulysses S. Grant and General William Tecumseh Sherman—and marriage proposals from men all over the country.

Ida Lewis is credited with saving at least 25 lives in the course of her work at Lime Rock. In 1879 she was appointed the light’s official keeper. She joined the ranks of the women—more than 120 strong—known to have been official lighthouse keepers between 1828 and 1905. When Ida passed away, after 50 years of service at the lighthouse, the name of the island that housed Lime Rock Light was changed to Ida Lewis Rock.

The New England Coastal Lighthouses Forever® stamps were released earlier this month. You can find them online, by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), and at Post Offices around the country. Have a story about another amazing lighthouse keeper? We’d love to hear it!

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About USPS Stamps

The Postal Service™ is proud of its role in portraying the American experience to a world audience through the issuance of postage stamps and postal stationery. Each year the Postal Service issues commemorative stamps reflecting subjects of national significance and appeal. More than 160 years of stamp development has yielded an incredible archive of imagery and commentary reflecting American culture and society. Even in this fast-changing world, stamps are still a versatile and convenient method of postage. And stamp collecting is a lifetime hobby that is fun and educational for all ages. Stamp collecting is easy to start without a big investment. It is also a great way to learn about the world and its many wonders, opening the door to an exciting universe of history, science, geography, the arts, technology, and sports. Our mission is to provide universal service that is prompt, reliable, efficient, affordable, and self-sustaining. Throughout its history the Postal Service has grown with the nation, binding it together by ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has the same ability to communicate regardless of technological change.