|Robbins Reef Lighthouse with New York City and Statue of Liberty|
By Marilyn Turk
|Robbins Reef, 1917|
Several men were offered the position John had vacated as keeper, but they refused, saying the location was too lonely. So Kate, the forty-year-old mother of two, applied for the position. Objections were raised against her appointment due to her petite size, assuming she was unable to handle a man’s job. At four-foot-ten and 100 pounds, the task seemed too large for a woman, not to mention, a tiny one.
It took four years and several men turning down the position before Kate received the appointment. But Kate's work ethic soon proved she was as good at the job as any man. Not only did she keep the light burning, she also rescued at least fifty people whose boats wrecked on the reef during storms. When fog rolled in, she went down into the basement to start the engine that sent out siren blasts. When the motor sometimes broke down, Kate climbed to the top of the tower to bang a huge bell.
|Kate on the ladder to the first floor of the lighthouse.|
Every day, Kate rowed her children to school, recorded the weather in the logbook, polished the brass, and cleaned the lens. At night, she wound up the weights multiple times to keep the fourth-order lens rotating, trimmed the wicks, refilled the oil reservoir, and in times of fog, she started up the engine in the basement to power the fog signal. As her son Jacob matured, he helped with the tasks and was made an official assistant keeper in 1896.
Kate was keeper of the light for thirty years, retiring at the age of 73. The U.S. Coast Guard commemorated her commitment to her position and diligence to the work by erecting a buoy in her honor and in 1996, a Coast Guard buoy tender bearing her name was launched.
Silencing her critics, Kate proved that despite her small size, she was more than capable of “minding the light.”
|USCG Tender Katherine Walker|