|Libby Island Lighthouse, Maine, old postcard|
By Marilyn Turk
Vera Sargeant pulled the slicker around her as the brisk October wind blew across the water, spraying her with a cool mist. As Keeper Wass of Libby Island Lighthouse emerged from the fog coming toward her in the lighthouse station boat, she readied herself to step onboard, hoping she wouldn’t soak her skirt and stockings.
Her heart twisted at the thought that soon she’d make her last trip of the year to visit the children at the lighthouse and teach them their lessons. When the boat reached the rocky shore of Mistake Island where she’d been teaching the children of the Moose Peak Lighthouse, Keeper Wass tossed a rope to the waiting keeper to secure, then extended his hand to help Vera step in.
She seated herself in the boat and waved to the children standing above on the ledge, praying their mother would continue to teach the lessons she’d left behind until she made her next round of visits.
In 1915, when the Department of Education in the state of Maine had assigned a teacher to work the offshore lighthouses, the Lighthouse Service Bulletin issued this announcement:
…the Bureau is informed that it is the intention to hereafter employ one teacher for about ten months in the year who will travel from station to station, taking a vacation for two months (December and January) in the winter. The State furnishes transportation expenses of teachers, salaries, and books, and the keepers furnish board at their own expense, and when opportunity permits and it does not interfere with the other work of the Lighthouse Service, the teacher is transported by tenders or station power boats.
|Moose Peak Lighthouse|
Being a traveling school teacher had its disadvantages. From the unpredictable boat rides across the water to each island to the variety of teaching environments, she had to adjust to whatever the situation required. The keepers did their best to provide a place she could teach the children providing tables, boards painted black for chalk writing, and stoves for heat. School supplies were limited, so she carried what she could in her satchel, trying to have enough for each lighthouse station.
The lighthouse families did their best to accommodate the teacher during the few weeks of each stay. Depending on the size of the keeper’s house and the number of children, the teacher’s lodging varied from sharing a room with the children to dispossessing them of their own rooms during her stay. Some keeper’s houses were warm and cozy, while others were dank and cold.
Oh, but the advantages outweighed the discomforts and challenges. Knowing she was providing these children an opportunity to learn was such a blessing when she saw the sparkle in their eyes as they grasped a concept. For these children in remote locations, she brought with her a piece of the world to share and enlighten them and connect them to the vast sphere of knowledge. These children became her extended family, and she grew attached to each unique personality.
When the traveling teacher program ended in 1922, Miss Sargeant’s heart was heavy with the loss of not seeing the children again. She hoped and prayed she’d made a positive impact on their lives while she could, trusting the words of Proverbs 22:16, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
A multi-published author, Marilyn Turk lives in and writes about the coastal South, particularly about its history. Her fascination for lighthouses spawned her popular weekly lighthouse blog @pathwayheart.com, and inspired the stories in her upcoming Coastal Lights Legacy series and her Lighthouse Devotions book. When not climbing lighthouses, Marilyn and her husband Chuck enjoy fishing, gardening, kayaking and playing with their grandchildren.