Situated on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain in what is now the neighborhood of Lakeview, the New Canal Lighthouse has a storied history dating back to 1839. The five female keepers that served at the New Canal Lighthouse between 1847 and 1932 are among the most notable parts of its history. The arduous job of a lighthouse keeper required 24 hours of work, which is why the keeper and their family often lived in the lighthouse. When a male keeper passed away, the role was usually given to an immediate family member, typically his wife. Lighthouse keeping became one of the first government jobs given to women, even before the 19th Amendment granted them the right to vote. Learn more about these five courageous women who helped keep New Orleans’ shores safe.
A Wife’s Work Redefined
The first woman to take the role was Elizabeth Beattle, who only served for a year. In 1847, she inherited the job from her husband Thomas, who had been the keeper at the New Canal Lighthouse since it opened in 1839. Not long after, Jane O’Driscoll served as the keeper from 1850 to 1853 after the passing of her husband. By this time, the lumber in the lower sections of the lighthouse had begun to rot, which caused the entire structure to lean precariously. The lighthouse was replaced with a new one-story structure that had iron pilings. It reopened in 1855 with a new keeper.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
The next women to take the lead at the New Canal Lighthouse were a mother and daughter team who ran it from 1870 until 1924. Mary Campbell took over after her husband’s death in 1870 and raised her family in the 440-square-foot lighthouse. Her daughter Caroline Campbell Riddle had been preparing for the job her whole life when she took over in 1895. When a Category 4 hurricane struck New Orleans in 1915, Riddle courageously secured the lens and hung a lantern during the storm. Even as the water rose above the levees and started to flood parts of the city, she refused to leave her post and received commendations for her bravery.
From Keeper to First Responder
The final female keeper was Margaret Norvell, who served as the New Canal Lighthouse’s keeper from 1924 to 1932. Known affectionately as Madge, Norvell had previously served as a keeper at two other lighthouses for 30 years. She made several daring rescues during her time at the New Canal Lighthouse. When a Navy pilot crashed his plane into Lake Pontchartrain, Norvell jumped into the station’s rowboat and saved him from drowning. She also came to the rescue of a ferryboat in 1925 after it caught fire near the station. Her heroic quick thinking helped save more than 200 passengers from the burning boat.
The fascinating history of the New Canal Lighthouse and its hardworking female keepers is just one of many tales that reflect New Orleans’ culture and heritage. With over 300 years of history, there’s no shortage of ways to tell your New Orleans story. Plan a trip to the Crescent City with Joieful and let our planners create personalized packages that are tailored to your tastes. Whether you’re interested in walking tours, outdoor activities, or a dining experience, we can help make your trip unforgettable. Book your experience today by speaking to one of our local experts at 504-207-4555.