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Women of the Lights

While the U.S. Light Service prohibited women and children from residing on lightships and at some of the most remote light stations, the families of most lite house keepers often lived at the lights. Usually, lite house Keepers and their families would live in buildings adjacent to the light towers themselves or in dwellings close by. In addition to performing many of the domestic duties associated with life at the lights, the wives of many lite house Keepers were often employed as assistant keepers as well. In fact, it was not at all uncommon for women who lived at the lights to assume the keepers duties in the absence of their husbands and even take over permanently as keepers when their husbands were no longer able to do the job or had passed away.

The history of lite house keepers in the U.S. is full of stories of these courageous women and their extraordinary lives. In addition to the rigorous task of maintaining the lights, they often still had children to educate and care for, many of them fulfilling the roles of both mother and light keeper entirely on their own. Perhaps the most famous of these women, Abbie Burgess, began her lifelong dedication to the lights at the age of fourteen, when her father was appointed to the Matinicus Rock Lighthouse and moved their family there. While still a teenager, Abbie's name became quite well known for having maintained the light for weeks on end during volatile storms in her father's absence, and on more than one occasion, keeping her family safe. She once even risked her own life to rescue her family's chickens, which were, in her own words, their "only companions". She later went on to marry Isaac Grant, the son of the lighthouse keeper who succeeded her father at Matinicus Rock Light. Together, they went on to maintain the Whitehead Light in Maine, where Abbie continued to work after her husband's death.

©2002 Lights of the Coast