After 120 years, Stella Prince gets her rightful place on the Coast Guard’s official list of lighthouse keepers
When Mary Korpi started to write “The Lady Lighthouse Keeper,” a historical-fiction novel based on the life of Stella Marie Prince, a female lighthouse keeper at Southold’s Horton Point Lighthouse in the early 1900s, she also started a journey to try and get Ms. Prince her rightful place in history.
After months of work Ms. Korpi’s effort proved successful Feb. 17 when the U.S. Coast Guard added Ms. Prince to the official list of women lighthouse keepers, 120 years after her service.
Ms. Prince, who lived at Horton Point Lighthouse for 34 years, served as the acting assistant keeper from June 1903 through November 1904, a federal job title for a temporary head keeper by order of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Ms. Korpi’s journey began when she came across the Coast Guard’s official list of women lighthouse keepers compiled by Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford, authors of the book “Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers.” The list included 138 women keepers who served between 1828 and 1947, but omitted Ms. Prince.
“I stumbled on that list online just looking for things and thought, why isn’t Stella on this list?” Ms. Korpi said. “She served during the dates the list covers, had the same title as other women on the list, which was acting assistant keeper, and she served longer than some women on the list.”
Ms. Korpi then contacted Mark Mollan, a Coast Guard deputy historian. After months of email exchanges, Mr. Mollan explained that they needed documentary evidence that Ms. Prince was a federal employee in order to add her to the official list of women lighthouse keepers.
Ms. Prince’s payroll information should have been available in Coast Guard records. It wasn’t. With the help of Mattituck-Laurel Library reference librarian Jerry Matovcik, Ms. Korpi eventually found it through an archivist at the National Archives in New York City. Ms. Prince’s service wasn’t recorded as it predated when the Coast Guard began overseeing lighthouses in 1939.
Once Ms. Korpi had obtained the records, she then forwarded them to Mr. Mollan, who added Ms. Prince to the Coast Guard’s official list.
“I’m very proud of Stella. I guess I’m proud of myself too, but I’m very proud of Stella,” Ms. Korpi said. “I just feel this was a very hardworking woman, although the book is fiction, it’s very much based on the facts of her life. The fact is she lived at the lighthouse longer than anyone else, the fact is the life of a lighthouse keeper and their family is a tough life, and even though Horton Point is a land-locked lighthouse, it’s still a hard life. I just think she finally gets her due, her little bit of attention for what she did and it’s just right that she should have been on that list.”
“The Lady Lighthouse Keeper” was published last February after a four-year journey to tell Ms. Prince’s story. Southold Historical Museum hosted a launch for the book last April.
The museum’s executive director, Deanna Witte-Walker, one of the many community members on the journey with Ms. Korpi from the beginning, was one of nine readers of the book before it was published last year. She, along with the rest of the museum staff, is excited for her and Ms. Prince’s success.
“Mary’s desire to have Stella Prince included as a keeper on the official list was important because it not only validates Stella Prince’s story, it promotes equity for all keepers who served the United States Light House Service and United States Coast Guard through history,” she said.