History of Women in Firefighting

Anne Crawford Allen Holst

Women have played a very important, though not always visible role, in the history of firefighting dating back to the nineteenth century bucket brigades.

While most of the history of female firefighters is lost, as the information was not officially gathered until the 1970s, several important names left there mark on history and led the charge for women to serve in their local brigade.

  • Molly Williams: Opening the doors for women in firefighting, Molly was a New York slave who joined the Oceanus Engine Company #11 in 1815, standing with the men on dragropes and pulling the pumper to the fires.
  • Adleheid von Buckow: Assisting the Atlantic City Fire Department’s volunteer company during a large blaze in 1875, Adleheid impressed them with her strength and endurance while pumping water all night long. She remains the only women ever to be a member of the company.
  • The Girton Ladies’ College: Under the supervision of London’s Fire Brigade Captain, students formed an all-women’s fire brigade in 1878. The company remained intact until 1932 when motor-powered fire equipment placed the college under the jurisdiction of the Cambridge Fire Brigade.
  • Anne Crawford Allen Holst: With the honor of first female fire chief, Anne became chief in 1931 for the Cedar Hill, Rhode Island fire department. She is not only responsible for saving dozens of lives during her years serving in forestry and firefighting but also paving the way for future women leaders in the industry.

Today there are more than 10,800 women who are career firefighters and over 3,000 women members who are volunteers. The history of women firefighters is rich with honor and continues to carve its path in history each day.

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