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Many of us who study labor markets often classify jobs as “while collar” (after the shirts often worn with suits for some jobs), “blue collar” (for jobs that don’t require suits) and sometimes even “pink collar,” for jobs that are in traditionally female occupations, such as teaching, nursing or secretarial jobs. I found myself thinking of this recently when I was reminded of the heroic work done by a woman from Newport, Rhode Island. She ran a light house in that harbor and who is credited for saving many lives, even though, in those days, working at such a job was not seen as an appropriate way for a woman to spend her time.

I recently attended a family reunion in Newport, Rhode Island, with my own family and members of my extended family. It was a wonderful time to eat sea food that is often not available in Ohio, a time for my daughter to play with her cousins, and a time to reconnect with my father and to bring back memories of our mutual past. On such reunions, it is tradition for us to take a ride on a boat tour of the Newport Harbor, where we can see the city from an entirely new perspective. As the boat we were on skimmed the harbor, the captain pointed out a light house on a set of rocks off the shore. Named after a woman named “Ida Lewis,” it now serves as part of a yacht club for the many sailors in the city.

Ida Lewis, tended to the light house for many years during the end of the 19th century.As a woman, she was not credited with the title of “lighthouse keeper,” as her father, the official lighthouse keeper, maintained that role, even though he was disabled and unable to perform his duties. Despite that, her name is now attached to that light house, and it is a monument to a woman who saved many lives, sometimes by rowing out into the rough ocean and dragging people who were in danger into her boat in order to get them to shore. She is looked to as a hero, was given a medal of honor for her work, and became a popular figure to model female courage to little girls. As I listened to her story for yet another year, I wondered what my daughter and niece, one flight above me on the tour boat, were thinking of the story of this brave woman. I suspect they were just enjoying the particularly rough water that was startling to me and my father, as he got wet from a wave that splashed onto the deck. It was as if the ocean was reminding us that these seas were not always calm and welcoming, and that such things as light houses were essential to the operation of this old port city.

I am sure that many people told Ida Lewis that tending to a light house was not a job that was appropriate for a woman of that time. Luckily, she ignored their opinions as she continued to serve the people of the Rhode Island coast. Although the exact number is not known, she is credited with saving quite a few people stranded in the harbor. I hope that, should someone someday tell my daughter or niece that a chosen line of work is not appropriate for a young woman, they will remember the story told on a tour boat as it passed lobster traps and beaches that sunny, summer day in 2017.


                                 … Hoping that everyone is enjoying the summer as it unfolds …

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