The Newport Historical Society will host a film screening of the historical documentary America’s Forgotten Heroine: Ida Lewis, Keeper of the Light on Thursday, November 5 at 5:30 p.m.
Written, directed and produced by Marian Gagnon of Goodnight Irene Productions, the 45-minute film provides an intimate portrayal of the life of Ida Lewis, from age 15 to 69 (1857 to 1911), who is remembered for her heroism of rescuing people from the sea.
Lewis was a Newport lighthouse keeper. Her first rescue occurred during the fall of 1858. Only 17 at the time, she rescued four local youths as they sailed between Fort Adams and the Lime Rocks. She rushed to the scene in her small boat and hauled the boys aboard one at a time and then took them to the lighthouse where they recovered.
Lewis’ most famous rescue occurred on March 29, 1869 when two soldiers were passing through Newport Harbor in a small boat guided by a 14-year-old boy who claimed to know his way through the harbor.
A snowstorm churned the water and the boat overturned. The two soldiers clung to the boat while the boy was lost. Lewis was suffering from a cold but ran to her boat without taking the time to put on a coat or shoes. With the help of her younger brother, Lewis hauled the two men into her boat and brought them to the lighthouse. For her heroism, Lewis became the first woman to receive a gold Congressional medal for lifesaving.
Lewis’ last recorded rescue occurred when she was 63. A friend had rowed to the lighthouse. When she stood up in her boat, she lost her balance and fell into the water. Ida rowed out to her and hauled her aboard.
Fame But Isolation
The film showcases the passion and moral fiber Lewis intrinsically brought to her work. It also explores the myriad decisions that led to a life of both fame and isolation, her unexpected celebrity in Newport and across the U.S., and her inadvertent impact on the early women’s rights movement.
The film was selected for the 2014 R.I. International Film Festival. Gagnon’s goal with this film was to renew the “national memory” of Ida Lewis as an American heroine in her hometown of Newport, throughout Rhode Island and across the United States. The documentary was produced with grants from the R.I. Council for the Humanities (RICH), the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts (RISCA) and a donation from the Ida Lewis Yacht Club.
The film will be featured at the Newport Historical Society Resource Center at 82 Touro Street in Newport. General admission is $5 per person with a $1 admission for members of the Newport Historical Society. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Contact mdelaire@NewportHistory.org or call 401-846-0813 x110.