Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Women of Maritime History

Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers. / Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford. Williamsburg, Virginia: Cypress Communications, 1993. ISBN 0963641204. 183 p. incl. Bibliography and Index.

This collection of stories is a powerful testament to women in maritime history. Portraits and graphic portrayals of these women lighthouse keepers speak of determination, personal strength, and commitment in lonely, isolated posts. They served coast and inland lighthouses and the navigators sailing in dangerous waters from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries. In other words, many of these stories took place before the American Civil War (1860-1865), into the 1920s, and in California just prior to World War I (1917-1921). Five of the book’s 20 accounts tell of women lighthouse keepers on the California Coast: Point Pinos and Angel Island Lights, Mare Island Light, Santa Cruz Light, Santa Barbara Light, and Point Fermin Light, tracking the long coast from San Francisco Bay to San Pedro. Acts of bravery and heroism were highlighted by hourly attention to the light, its lamp, lens, fuel mechanism for lighting the lamp, and the grounds and house attached. If sailors were rescued from storms the house served as a way-station until the injured could be moved, the lighthouse keepers were life-savers as well as lamp-lighters.

Consider the lives of lighthouse keepers who managed to warn mariners in fog despite failures of the lamp apparatus, who experienced damage from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, performed first aid, home-schooled their children, hired and trained workers, and repaired and kept equipment working! These women’s lives are heroic, starting with their imagination and sheer bravado in the face of adverse situations, when supplies were low, equipment failing, and no one around to help! Their dedication to serve was a very prominent characteristic, keeping navigators alerted to danger and from disaster along their shores.

A second edition was published in 2001; the book is available at public libraries. The 1993 edition is available for circulation to Museum Members at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library.

Explanation of terms and online links:
Circulation to Museum Members: with your Museum Membership you may borrow books for a 3-week time period. Please call the Library for more information.

See an account of “Women in Transportation”, a document from the publications page of the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. It was written in honor of women pioneers and engineers in maritime as well as other areas of transportation.

The following definitions are from Encyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge. /W.A. McEwen and A.H. Lewis. Cambridge, Maryland: Cornell Maritime Press. 1953.

Lamp: “the familiar instrument for providing light…” and “a fixed light, as shown by a lighthouse, a continuous light of constant brilliancy.” ---from p. 275, 293.
Lens, Fresnel: “…a lens originally designed for lighthouses by Augustin Jean Fresnel, French optician and geometer (1788-1827). --- p. 287
Lighthouse keepers: from “light-keeper, person charged with care and operation of lighting apparatus of a lighthouse or lightship.” --- p. 293.
Maritime: “…pertaining to or connected with the sea in respect to commerce, navigation, or shipping…” --- from p. 327.

Point Fermin Lighthouse: built in 1874 and equipped with a Fresnel lens, located in San Pedro, on a bluff above San Pedro Bay. Visit the Point Fermin Lighthouse web site here.
Post: an appointment to service; a structure on land; “…the first lighthouse built in the U.S. was in Plymouth Harbor, Massachusetts in 1776; the first lighthouse on the California Coast was in San Francisco Bay just after the Gold Rush in 1854…” ---Women Who Kept the Lights, Introduction.

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