The History of Women In Firefighting
There is a long history of women in firefighting, longer than one might think. In fact, there is record of women firefighters dating back over 200 years. The first woman firefighter that we have record of was Molly Williams, a slave in New York. Molly became a member of the Oceanus Engine Company #11 around 1815.
Another name that comes to mind when thinking of women in firefighting is Lillie Hitchcock Coit. After helping drag an engine to a fire on Telegraph Hill, the San Francisco heiress became an honorary memberof Knickerbocker Engine Company #5 as a teenager in 1859.
The first woman to be officially be recognized as a firefighter in the state of New Jersey was was Emma Vernell. Emma became a member of the Westside Horse Company #1 in the late 1920's after her firefighter husband was killed in the line of duty.
Starting as early as 1910, women volunteer fire companies were starting to pop up in states such as Maryland and California. During World War II, women from all across the country joined local volunteer fire departments to fill the shoes of the men who had been called to military duty. In Illinois, two military fire departments were staffed entirely by women during part of the war.
By the 1960's there were all women volunteer fire companies operating across the country however by the 70's it was becoming much more common for women to join a regular volunteer fire department and work right alongside their male peers. Thus we started seeing the all women fire companies start to become a thing of the past. By the mid 70's we also started seeing women becoming career firefighters. Now, more than 6,500 women hold career firefighting and fire officer positions across the United States.
It's no question that there have been many brave women firefighters throughout the 19th and 20th centuries however over the years, many of those names and records have been lost to time. Every now and then though, we come across a historical record uncovering additional history of women firefighters throughout the years.
The Crested Butte Fire Protection District has a long history of women volunteer firefighters and that tradition is alive and well today.