Keepers · Research

Researching Female Lighthouse Keepers

As every historian knows, research is an ongoing process; you are never completely finished. The story is often told and new information comes to light. So it is with my research on female lighthouse keepers. Our book, Women Who Kept the Lights, first published in 1993, keeps expanding as new information is found on these remarkable women who kept lighthouses primarily during the nineteenth century. We produced a third edition in 2013 that includes two new chapters.

So I was surprised and delighted when I noticed a postcard that Linda Keenan had scanned in the Herb Entwistle collection for inclusion in the Society Archives and digital Catalog. (Founding member of the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, Herb amassed an amazing collection of lighthouse postcards that his family has donated to the Society’s Archives.) Linda recognized the significance of this particular postcard of Point Pinos and scanned both the back and front sides shown here.

Point Pinos Lighthouse, California, from the Herb Entwistle collection, Society Archives.
Point Pinos Lighthouse Keeper Emily Fish wrote “I have my efficiency star with commendation for the efficient and conscientious manner in which I have discharged my duties–am so pleased” to Angel Island Lighthouse Keeper Juliet Nichols. 1913 postcard from the Herb Entwistle Collection, Society Archives

The efficiency star intended “to promote efficiency and friendly rivalry among lighthouse keepers, a system of efficiency stars and pennants . . . Keepers who have been commended for efficiency at each quarterly inspection during the year are entitled to wear the inspector’s star for the next year, and those who receive the inspector’s star for three successive years will be entitled to wear the Commissioner’s star…”(Reproduction stars are available in the Keeper’s Locker),

We know that Keeper Emily Fish had a servant and employed laborers for the “heavy work” which included maintaining her large gardens and livestock. And that her son-in-law, district lighthouse inspector Lt. Cdr. Henry E. Nichols, arranged Emily’s appointment in 1893.  But Fish was a very conscientious keeper, keeping an excellent light and dealing with the after-effects of the 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of nearby San Francisco.

Emily’s step-daughter, Juliet Nichols, was the wife of the same inspector who procured Emily’s appointment. Juliet was offered the appointment as keeper of Angel Island’s light and fog signal after her husband’s death. Nichol’s correspondence with the district inspector reflected continued struggles with the fog signal, having to ring it by hand when the striking mechanism failed. Nichols, appointed in 1902, also served during the 1906 earthquake and watched San Francisco burn from her post.

Both Fish and Nichols retired as keepers in 1914, the year after this card was written.

Another female keeper, Julia Williams (pictured here), kept the Santa Barbara Light, California, from 1865 to 1905. Postcard from Herb Enwistle Collection, Society Archives

Submitted by Candace Clifford, Society Historian. Her book, Women Who Kept the Lights, co-authored with Mary Louise Clifford, is available in the Keeper’s Locker.

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2 thoughts on “Researching Female Lighthouse Keepers

  1. I’m thrilled to have come across your work, Candace, and very much appreciate the energy you’ve put into sharing the stories of these “intrepid women.”

    This postcard is of particular interest to me as Juliet Emily (FISH) NICHOLS is a 1st cousin of mine (4x removed). Her step-mother Emily (MAITLAND) and her biological mother – Emily’s sister Juliet (MAITLAND) – married my 4th great-uncle Dr. Melancthon W FISH.

    I happen to live in Oakland, CA now where Dr Fish, Emily, daughter Juliet, and her husband lived for many years. While Dr. Fish was rather prominent in both political and social circles at the time, it seems his wife Emily and daughter Juliet are the ones who have truly earned their spot in the light! I didn’t know that the mother – daughter lighthouse keepers Emily and Juliet I’d once heard about were actually family until I moved to the area and stumbled upon the family Plot here in Mountain View Cemetery. The more I learn about them, the more fascinated I’ve become!

    Thank you so much for sharing this postcard. (And thank you Linda Keenan for recognizing its significance!) It’s quite a find!!

    I’m curious how Herb initially came upon it and am so grateful his family donated it to the archives.

    Might the Herb Entwistle Collection be available to the public for viewing now, either online or in-person? (I looked but couldn’t find it in’s digital archives.) I’d love to update our family records with a note about it and share info about the collection with other family members. I’d love to share a digital copy with other relatives too. Either way, wanted to take a moment to share my gratitude with your efforts to preserve and share this history. Thank you!!!

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