Connie Scovill Small (1901-2005)

"May the sunrise give you hope and inspiration,
The sunset, the comfort of a day well spent."

-- From The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife by Connie Small.


Connie Scovill Small, known as the "First Lady of Light" and the honorary chairperson of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, died at the age of 103 on January 25, 2005, at the Mark Wentworth Home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Connie was born in Lubec, Maine, on June 4, 1901. She and her husband, Keeper Elson Small, lived at several offshore lighthouses in Maine between 1920 and 1946, including Lubec Channel Light (1920-1922), Avery Rock Light (1922-1926), Seguin Island Light (1926-1930), and St. Croix River Light (1930-1946).

Connie and Elson Small in 1921

Connie grew up with the light from Lubec Channel Light shining into her bedroom window. The first time she visited the lighthouse after marrying Elson, Connie saw the thirty-foot ladder to the entryway and told Elson she couldn't make the climb. He simply told her, "Sure you can, I'll be right behind you," and "Look up, never down." Connie lived the rest of her life by those words.

In 1946, Elson Small became keeper of Portsmouth Harbor Light. Connie described the view from the top of the tower in her 1986 book, The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife:

I looked down forty feet to the little white scallops of incoming tide washing over the rocks, caressing each one lovingly. ...We could look up the Piscataqua River to Portsmouth, with its gleaming white belfry of North Church, a landmark for sailors, silhouetted against the sky. ...At the center of the harbor was Whaleback Lighthouse, and ten miles out to sea from that was the lighthouse on White Island, part of the Isles of Shoals. Both sent their beams across the water.

When Connie and Elson moved to Portsmouth Harbor Light, it was their first home on the mainland in their married life. It was also the first light station where they had electricity. Connie said that this was a thrill, and that they went on an "electric binge," buying appliances for the keeper's house.

But at the same time, there was some sadness when she saw that she could turn on the light in the lighthouse by simply pushing a button. Twenty minutes of slaving over an oil lamp to get it running properly had been replaced by instant light. This was progress of a sort, but it was the beginning of the end for lighthouse keepers.

Connie and Elson Small at Portsmouth Harbor Light

One of Connie Small's duties at Portsmouth Harbor Light was to fly weather signal flags, signaling mariners of storm or hurricane warnings. She hated to throw the damaged flags away, so she made quilts out of them and gave them to friends.

Connie and Elson Small left Portsmouth Harbor Light in 1948 and moved to Eliot, Maine. Elson died in 1960, and Connie went to work. For a while she sold clothes at Foye's Department Store in Portsmouth. She then had a stint as a head resident at the University of Maine in Farmington. People urged her to write down her lighthouse memories, and she published her book The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife at the age of 85. The University of Maine Press reissued it in a new 1999 edition.

Connie gave about 600 lectures to schoolchildren and other groups on her life at lighthouses. She loved to go to Lighthouse Depot in Wells, Maine, to meet people and sign books. She must have signed thousands of her books over the years. She especially loved meeting children. When the American Lighthouse Foundation honored her at Yoken's restaurant in Portsmouth for her 100th birthday, a group of fourth graders from the Dondero School in Portsmouth sang a song about lighthouses for her. When the children met her, one little girl asked if she could come and live with Connie. Anyone who ever met Connie can understand why this girl felt the way she did. But Connie had to explain that she couldn't take the girl home, as much as she may have wanted to.

On March 23, 2003, members of the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse gave recognition to their "guiding light." The citation presented to Connie in March read:

The Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, do hereby name Constance Scovill Small our Honorary Chairperson in recognition of her many years of exemplary service at light stations, including Portsmouth Harbor Light, with her husband Elson Small. We also thank her for the inspiration she has given so many through her book The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife and her lectures. Connie is a light for us all to follow.

We've all learned so much from Connie, and we will strive to carry on her life's work of preserving lighthouses and their history. The world is a brighter place because Connie Small was in it, and her guiding light will continue to inspire.

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