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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Ladies of Light: Chesapeake lighthouses and the women who kept them

At a time when water was the most efficient mode of transportation, the lighthouse stood alone, often in isolation in remote, far-off locations. Eighty-two once marked the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, 45 of them in Maryland. Their sole purpose was to guide boats, goods and people to safety.

Today, 24 lighthouses and one replica remain standing in the state. Some are in better shape than others, and many owe their longevity to historians and volunteers, who work tirelessly to preserve these cultural and historic beacons.

Carrying the torch
For hundreds of years, lighthouses were operated by keepers, hearty men and women who kept the light burning. Their livelihood depended on hard work, rigid routine, long hours and dedication to duty, which often included long periods of isolation.

What is surprising, however, is the number of years women minded the lighthouses in Maryland, particularly at Point Lookout and Turkey Point.

Maryland’s first female light keeper, Ann Davis, was the daughter of James Davis who died about two months after he was hired at Point Lookout. Ann took over the job in 1830 and held the position for 17 years until her own death. Other women who served there include Martha A. Edwards and her daughter Permelia, who kept the light for 14 years after her mother’s death. These three women tended Point Lookout for all but six of its first 40 years of operation.

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