Six light stations stand upon the Apostle Islands, helping guide ships on the waters of Lake Superior. These lights operate automatically today, but in times gone by, lighthouse keepers lived on the islands and tended the lights. Some of the keepers were bachelors, but many brought families to the lonely island stations. Lightkeepers' wives filled many roles, often helping their husbands tend the lights, while caring for their families in conditions that are difficult to imagine today.
Anna Maria Carlson was one such woman. Born in Sweden, Anna Maria came to the U.S. as a teenager. At the age of twenty-one, she married Robert Carlson, newly-appointed Assistant Keeper at the Outer Island light. Many years later, she told a newspaper reporter of how it felt to adapt to her new way of life:
I had three persons to talk to: my husband, who was assistant keeper, the head keeper, an old man with but one eye, and a fisherman who came that summer and lived in a shack down the shore.
Oh! The loneliness of those days on Outer Island! There was nothing to see but water, with the dim outline of other islands of the Apostles group behind the haze, and an occasional steamer way out on the lake. When my housework was done, my husband used to take me down the shore to the fisherman's shack, where we would visit for a while. Or we would walk out into the woods.
That was my life, day in and day out. Going ashore to the mainland, 40 miles away, meant riding in a sailboat, which always frightened me. Nights I would look out of the window and see nothing but the dark water; no lights anywhere, not even in the fisherman's shanty, which was too far away.
The old lighthouse keeper, dead these many years, was always very kind. He showed me how to cook, for I had never been used to much work. I have learned to do all kinds of housework since my marriage. A woman can learn to do anything if she sets her mind to it.