Book review: Ladies of the Lights

Published 9:01 am Thursday, July 26, 2012

The author did a phenomenal job researching for this informative, nonfiction book, “Ladies of the Lights — Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service.”

It is an account of days long gone by, but not by any means forgotten.

For a nonfiction account, there are treats to whet the reader’s appetite. This includes diary entries, interviews and fascinating anecdotes. In addition, she meticulously presents the reader with a pictorial timeline and a detailed, narrative flow of female keepers of the flame. Majher’s facts, including the clothing and pastimes of the era, bring these unsung heroes back to life.

The author’s inspiration for this read was a cover story that appeared in a 2003 issue of Michigan History Magazine. The story dealt with the mysterious death of a female lighthouse keeper. This led to the discovery of about 50 other female lighthouse keepers who lit the lamps. Their 100 years of these hidden contributions were almost lost to time.

The author further explains how these positions date back to the 1840s. Michigan happens to be the state where most lighthouse were erected. Many female lighthouse keepers succeeded their husbands or other relatives, but many of these appointments were achieved on their own merits.

The author elaborates the difficult waters these women had to navigate. For example, challenges for these women were the physical and stressful demands that could age them long before their time. One may wonder how hard could this kind of work be? These female keepers had to upkeep the flame while guiding ships safely back to shore. In some cases the keepers even rescued struggling swimmers in the lakes.

Furthermore, many of the keepers raised children on their own. Tragically, some of their children perished due to illness. In addition, the district lighthouse inspectors evaluated these keepers on a predictable schedule. If the keepers did not pass these inspections, the inspectors could eventually dismiss them. Consequently, some of them were dismissed.

There always seems to be a type of mystique connected with lighthouses. This riveting work will make the reader want to uncover more untold narratives on this topic.

Majher is the editor of Michigan History Magazine. It is published by the Historical Society of Michigan. Previously, she was the assistant director of the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame in Lansing. Furthermore, she has been writing both advertising and editorial copy for almost 30 years. Majher has also been a frequent contributor to Michigan newspapers and magazines.