Throwback Thursday – One Woman in History

Giorgina Reid and her husband, Donald Reid, securing the bluff at the Montauk Lighthouse. | Albert R. Holden Collection, Montauk Library Archives

“She came uninvited. She was 60 years old at that time,” Dan Rattiner wrote about his first encounter with Giorgina Reid in 1970, more than a decade before Women’s History Month became a thing. “And she said she could save the Montauk Lighthouse from falling into the sea. I was, at that time, 28, and I was not impressed.”

“So, this 4-foot-10 little dynamo named Giorgina Reid arrives at the lighthouse to speak with the Coast Guard to discuss how she can help restore their eroded cliffs using her method,” Greg Donohue, who volunteered to help and went on to spearhead erosion control projects at the lighthouse, said in interview with the Army Corps of Engineers, which had failed at the task. “I’m sure the Coast Guard engineers had a good chuckle in their lunchroom after meeting this sassy life force. But they realized that up till now nothing else has succeeded, so what did they have to lose.”

Fast-forward about 15 years, during which time Giorgina was successful in staving off erosion at the lighthouse by terracing the bluff on which it sits with reeds, sand, and 1-by-4s, a system she would patent and describe in a self-published book, How to Hold Up a Bank.

“Several times a week, she would be out on the cliffs,” Greg said of Giorgina, whose special process had been inspired by battling erosion at her home in Rocky Point. “She sculpted and sculpted and sculpted and dug as she graded the steep cliff into terraces,” he said in the Army Corps interview. “The daily assignment was to dig like a mole and climb like a goat.”

The “little dynamo” may not have received all the respect she was due in her day – when she tried without success in 1984 to get county funding for the project, Lee Koppelman, the executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Board, told a Newsday reporter “[I don’t] comment on 76-year-old women.” But Giorgina would eventually be considered a “savior” of the Montauk Lighthouse, as Dan Rattiner described her in 2014.

“For her dedicated work, Giorgina Reid was honored at the Montauk Point Lighthouse on September 12, 1986,” wrote Henry Osmers in his book On Eagle’s Beak. “She was presented with a proclamation and a letter of commendation signed by President Ronald Reagan in recognition of her efforts to control the erosion at Montauk Point.”


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