Was Ida Lewis a Womanly, or a Manly, Woman? The Ambivalence of a Woman Lighthouse Keeper’s Gender Identity Between Masculinity and Femininity

Yoriko Ishida


It is obvious that Darling could be mentioned as a most brave woman in doing the heavy labor involved in a lighthouse keeping and even saving shipwrecked people, but it is more particularly worth noting that Ida Lewis’s efforts saved the lives of at least eighteen people over a period of twenty-five years. This paper focuses on Ida Lewis, the most famous woman lighthouse keeper in the United States, and analyzes the gender identity of women lighthouse keepers. most studies that discuss women lighthouse keepers point out that, behind women’s being appointed as official lighthouse keepers in the nineteenth-century United States, the labor of lighthouse keepers could essentially share common features with the form of femininity that was emphasized in the Victorian era. However, when analyzing from the viewpoint of gender ideology, I cannot help raising questions regarding women lighthouse keepers as examples of mere femininity simply because the labor forms were analogous with household labor. When the labors of lighthouse keeping would be actually recognized as a manly role, can we make a judgement that women lighthouse keepers all endowed feminine traits even when performing the heavy tasks of lighthouse keeping? Moreover, lifesaving, being separable from lighthouse keeping, has been traditionally considered to be “masculine behavior.” The aim of this paper is to point out that “femininity” and “masculinity” have been artificially generated, and, as such, are entirely unrelated to an individual’s characteristics and abilities. In that light, to deconstruct ideologies of “femininity” and “masculinity,” I have chosen to focus on women who have committed to continuing to perform their duties by analyzing the life of Ida Lewis as the most famous woman lighthouse keeper. This has been accomplished by referring to the United States Department of the Interior National Park Service: National Register of Historic Places Inventory for 1897 and some articles about Ida Lewis from 1869 to 1911 as primary sources. Ida Lewis applies simultaneously as among those women who, under the patriarchy, should be confined to the “women’s sphere.” Furthermore, according to social gender ideology, the life of Ms. Lewis does not necessarily correspond to an individual’s abilities and character, as she was able to display the same ability as a man and perform “men’s work” in the women’s sphere.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11114/ijsss.v7i5.4447


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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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