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As It Was: Mabel Hatch Bretherton Becomes Lighthouse Keeper

The first woman lighthouse keeper in Oregon, Mabel Hatch Bretherton, got her first lighthouse job after her husband, Bernard Bretherton, died in 1903.

They had married in 1892 in Sitka, Alaska, and had three children.  They moved to Newport, Ore., in 1894, where he became assistant keeper at the Yaquina Beach Lighthouse, followed by keeper of the Coquille River Lighthouse in Bandon.  The jobs allowed him to continue his bird studies.

In those days, the lighthouse service often offered employment to widows of keepers.  Mabel, widowed with three children under 10, became the assistant lighthouse keeper at Cape Blanco in Port Orford.

Mabel moved to North Head Lighthouse in 1905. As the only woman assigned there, she assisted with the maintenance of the light and lens, considered the most important job of keepers.  The light functioned from dusk to dawn, limiting cleaning and polishing to the daylight hours.

Lighthouse keepers had a difficult life, often working very long hours.  Mabel resigned in 1907 and moved to Portland.


Sources: Miller, Bill. "A home on the headlands." Mail Tribune, 31 Oct. 2010 [Medford, Oregon] , www.mailtribune.com/article/20010121/News/301219995. Accessed 17 Nov. 2017; "History of the North Head Lighthouse." Keepers of the North Head Lighthouse, northheadlighthouse.com/history. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017; “Cape Blanco Lighthouse, Oregon." , Lighthousefriends.com, 2001-2017, www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=125. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017; Bretherton, Pam. "Bernard Joseph Bretherton." Geocities, www.geocities.ws/pambretherton/Bretherton.html. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

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Luana (Loffer) Corbin graduated from Southern Oregon College, majoring in Elementary Education.  The summer after graduation she was hired to teach at Ruch Elementary, where she taught for 32 years. After retiring, Corbin worked for Lifetouch School Photography and then returned to Ruch as an aide helping with reading instruction and at the library.  More recently, she has volunteered at South Medford High.