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Anna Garrity, One of the First Female Lighthouse Keepers on the Great Lakes

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Anna Garrity

Anna Garrity was one of the first female lighthouse keepers on the Great Lakes. Anna was born on March 29, 1872, at the New Presque Isle Lighthouse, to Irish immigrants Patrick Garrity and Mary Chambers.

The New Presque Isle Light was built in 1870 on the namesake peninsula in Presque Isle, Michigan, east of Grand Lake. It is one of 149 lighthouses in Michigan, more than any other state. Because of changing shoreline particularly, or alternatively deterioration of the original building, it is not uncommon for a replacement lighthouse to be placed in the vicinity of an earlier light, in this case, the Old Presque Isle Light.

Patrick Garraty was selected by Abraham Lincoln as fourth keeper of the old lighthouse and also instated as first keeper of the new lighthouse. His wife Mary was appointed by Patrick as assistant keeper which was extremely rare for the times. Of course, wives would help their husbands, but very seldom did they hold a paying position.

The lighthouse keeper’s duty was never-ending. The station was expected to remain neat and orderly, and the lens required a daily cleaning, every two months a wash, and yearly a special polish. Wicks needed to be trimmed daily. Light towers were expected to remain in top shape, and this required sweeping, snow shoveling, and other care. This was to be done before 10 am, in preparation for that night’s use. Additionally, many lightkeepers also maintained a garden on the property which would sustain them with enough fresh vegetables when tenders would not come.

Anna Garrity was the youngest of the Garrity children, with six older siblings. The children, who lived after childhood, grew up learning daily lighthouse keeping duties, and four out of the six continued to pursue careers in lighthouse keeping just as their parents did.

Anna became the keeper of the Presque Isle Harbor Range Lighthouses in 1903 at the age of 31 and served until her death on May 21, 1937, at the age of 65. She walked the often-slippery boards leading to the Front Range Light twice a day. Every day, she turned on the light at dusk and turned it off at dawn. She managed the lighthouse keeper job by herself, but did have assistance from her niece that stayed with her in the summers.

Anna Garrity

In recognition of Anna’s service as a lighthouse keeper, a 400-pound high carbon steel statue of her stands on Range Light Beach in Presque Isle, overlooking the harbour. Her statue serves as a symbol for all of the women who have dedicated their lives to the Great Lakes Coast Line. Dawn Barr, a sculptor from Cheboygan, created the statue.

More than 50 women served as lighthouse keepers in Michigan over the course of time.


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About Author

Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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