Leave the Light On: Heroic Women Who Lit the Coastal Lighthouses 

Cape Cod Life  /  April 2023 /

Writer: Chris White

The lighthouse is one of Cape Cod’s most beloved and enduring symbols. Even in the pre-selfie-obsessed days of travel, tourists visited the lights, photographers shot them by night and by day, and landscape painters captured them in the foregrounds and on the horizons of their canvases. The structures have come to represent the bygone era of sail, when the world turned more slowly and people could more easily savor its beauty and the joys of family and friends.  While many lighthouses serve as museums, and icons of history, some are still in operation, at least in the form of U.S. Coast Guard stations such as Chatham Light, which was featured in the 2016 film The Finest Hours. A number of other area lighthouses have passed into private ownership. But for hundreds of years, these structures served as important navigational aids. In doing so, they simultaneously acquired airs of survival and romance, these candles in the dark, dark night. Lighthouses became romantic in the way of a relationship’s early stages, as they both attract and repel, saying “come close,” while also sending a warning of danger. People “light up” when they fall into infatuation, but when things go wrong on the seas of love, couples wind up “on the rocks.” As beacons in the darkness, lighthouses represent duality, and Sigmund Freud surely would have noted the typical structure of these buildings. Perhaps the most famous book on the topic, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, even incorporates obvious Freudian theory into its study of the Ramsay family. Lighthouses appear in tales of adventure and in horror stories, but most commonly they spring up in romance dramas, such as the 2012 bestselling novel, The Light Between Oceans. It’s no wonder that popular music, too, has capitalized on the allure of these monolithic symbols,…

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Chris White

Chris White is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications and has written on topics ranging from the history of Smith’s Tavern on Wellfleet Island to the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria off Nantucket. Chris also teaches English at Tabor Academy in Marion.