We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Ladies of the Lights

Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service

Patricia Majher

Publication Year: 2011

"A great read about some great ladies, Pat Majher's Ladies of the Lights pays long overdue homage to an overlooked part of Great Lakes maritime history in which a select group of stalwart women beat the odds to succeed in a field historically reserved for men." ---Terry Pepper, Executive Director of Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association Michigan once led the country in the number of lighthouses, and they're still a central part of the mystique and colorful countryside of the state. What even the region's lighthouse enthusiasts might not know is the rich history of female lighthouse keepers in the area. Fifty women served the sailing communities on Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior, as well as on the Detroit River, for more than 100 years. From Catherine Shook, who raised eight children while maintaining the Pointe Aux Barques light at the entrance to Saginaw Bay; to Eliza Truckey, who assumed responsibility for the lighthouse in Marquette while her husband fought for four years in the Civil War; to Elizabeth Whitney, whose combined service on Beaver Island and in Harbor Springs totaled forty-one years---the stories of Michigan's "ladies of the light" are inspiring. This is no technical tome documenting the minutiae of Michigan's lighthouse specifications. Rather, it's a detailed, human portrait of the women who kept those lighthouses running, defying the gender expectations of their time. Patricia Majher is Editor of Michigan History magazine, published by the Historical Society of Michigan. Prior, she was Assistant Director of the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame in Lansing, Michigan. In addition, she has been writing both advertising and editorial copy for almost thirty years and has been a frequent contributor to Michigan newspapers and magazines.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page and Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (229.2 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (85.5 KB)
pp. vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (114.6 KB)
pp. ix-x

I wish to thank the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame for providing the opportunity to delve into such a fascinating topic in the process of developing the “Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service” exhibit. The discovery of an...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (157.3 KB)
pp. 1-4

Lighthouse keeping in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a rugged life ‹lled with long hours and hard work punctuated by periods of real peril. Not a profession for the fainthearted, it was thought by many to be unsuitable employment for the “fairer sex.”...

read more

1. Female Lighthouse Keepers: A Brief History

pdf iconDownload PDF (180.0 KB)
pp. 5-8

The story begins in the early eighteenth century, with the illumination of the inaugural “aid to navigation” in U.S. waters: Little Brewster Island lighthouse in Boston Harbor. First lit in 1716, it was manned—literally—by a fellow known as George Worthylake.1 Ten...

read more

2. Michigan: Home to the Most Female Keepers

pdf iconDownload PDF (192.7 KB)
pp. 9-12

By extension, Michigan also recorded the most keepers in the Lighthouse Service and earned another distinction as well: It was home to the most female keepers. Twenty-seven of the state’s women served as principal keepers out of approximately 140 across the country. Another twenty-five Michigan...

read more

3. Typical Duties of a Lighthouse Keeper

pdf iconDownload PDF (201.5 KB)
pp. 13-17

To fully appreciate the challenges that women faced in the light keeping profession, you must ‹rst understand what any keeper or assistant keeper was expected to do. The following excerpt from an 1835 document issued by the superintendent of lighthouses details just a few of...

read more

4. How Did Women Get Appointed to Keeper Positions?

pdf iconDownload PDF (224.8 KB)
pp. 18-22

The wives (and sometimes daughters) of keepers had little trouble being named assistant keepers in the Lighthouse Service; if their relatives requested the appointment, it was generally granted. But getting a woman named the principal keeper at a light? That was another...

read more

5. What Drew Women to This Work?

pdf iconDownload PDF (154.6 KB)
pp. 23-25

It’s a sad fact, but true: Most women became lighthouse keepers to provide for themselves and their children after the death of a keeper husband.1 And some were relatives of keepers who just fell naturally into the profession. One example of this was Caroline Warner—an...

read more

6. What Special Hardships Did Women Face?

pdf iconDownload PDF (213.9 KB)
pp. 26-30

Some lighthouses were built in the most remote places. M. A. Stevens bravely took on Michigan’s most distant assignment when she assisted her husband, William Stevens, at the Menagerie Island (Isle Royale) lighthouse fifty miles out in Lake Superior. Far from...

read more

7. Were Any Female Keepers Also Mothers?

pdf iconDownload PDF (169.5 KB)
pp. 31-33

Many female lighthouse keepers performed their professional duties while raising children, and some had very large families. Among Michigan’s most notable keepers who were also mothers are Catherine Shook with eight children and Katherine Marvin with ten....

read more

8. Were Female Keepers Treated Differently from Male Keepers?

pdf iconDownload PDF (193.2 KB)
pp. 34-37

It was definitely a man’s world in the Lighthouse Service of the nineteenth century. For instance, while men could serve at any light station, women were more restricted in their movements—for their own safety. An 1879 circular from Naval Secretary George Dewey to all...

read more

9. What Were the Contributions of Wives of Male Keepers?

pdf iconDownload PDF (242.6 KB)
pp. 38-44

A keeper’s wife’s primary responsibility was maintaining their residence to the same exacting standards as those of the lighthouse itself. The service’s inspectors visited each light station on a quarterly basis to review the performance of the keeper as well as the condition...

read more

10. How Long Did Female Keepers Serve?

pdf iconDownload PDF (161.0 KB)
pp. 45-47

The 1870s marked the high point of employment of women in Michigan lighthouses, with numbers declining sharply after 1898. In the twentieth century, only thirteen women served the maritime community; of those, nine appeared to be “placeholders” who stayed only a...

read more

11. Sixteen Who Served

pdf iconDownload PDF (562.6 KB)
pp. 48-73

More than fifty women served at Michigan lighthouses as assistant keepers or keepers starting in 1849 and ending in 1954. While all were dedicated to their jobs, sixteen served with particular distinction. Here are their stories, in order of their first year of official service...

read more

12. An Interview with Frances (Wuori Johnson) Marshall

pdf iconDownload PDF (215.3 KB)
pp. 74-89

What follows is an excerpted version of an oral history interview conducted in 2007 with Michigan’s last female lighthouse keeper Frances Marshall. She served at the White River light on Lake Michigan. The interviewer is the author....

read more

13. Epilogue

pdf iconDownload PDF (90.1 KB)
pp. 90-91

For most Michigan women, though, the record of their lives after lighthouse keeping is incomplete. After assisting her husband Stephen for ‹ve years at Gull Rock light, Mary Cocking ceases to show up in service records. It is thought that she moved with him...

Geographical List of Keepers

pdf iconDownload PDF (89.6 KB)
pp. 93-94

Alphabetical List of Keepers by Last Name

pdf iconDownload PDF (106.5 KB)
pp. 95-96

Alphabetical List of Keepers by Lighthouse

pdf iconDownload PDF (89.6 KB)
pp. 97-98

Chronological List of Keepers

pdf iconDownload PDF (89.4 KB)
pp. 99-100

Suggested Reading

pdf iconDownload PDF (109.3 KB)
pp. 101-102


pdf iconDownload PDF (163.8 KB)
pp. 103-110


pdf iconDownload PDF (135.0 KB)
pp. 111-115


pdf iconDownload PDF (188.2 KB)
pp. 117-120

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028016
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051434

Page Count: 136
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Women lighthouse keepers -- Michigan -- History.
  • Women lighthouse keepers -- Michigan -- Biography.
  • Lighthouses -- Michigan -- History.
  • Lighthouse keepers -- Michigan -- History.
  • Lighthouse keepers -- Michigan -- Biography.
  • Women lighthouse keepers -- United States -- History.
  • Women lighthouse keepers -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States. Bureau of Light-Houses.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access