ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Lillie Hitchcock Coit, San Francisco's Firefighting Patron

Updated on December 4, 2012

Traditionally, firefighting has been a male dominated occupation. However, a few spirited females such as Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1843-1929) left their indelible mark on the profession. Lillie was an only child and arrived in California in the spring of 1851 with her parents. Her father was a surgeon and a graduate of West Point, the place she was born.

Lillie had always been fascinated by the red shirt and uniforms of the firemen assigned to San Francisco’s Knickerbocker Company, Engine Number 5 and the prospect of watching them battle big fires. Perhaps this was because Lillie was rescued from an upper floor of the hotel where she and her father were staying by them. Soon after whenever the fire alarms sounded Lillie could be seen at other fires cheering her heroes on. It wasn’t long before she became their "unofficial mascot."

Her father however, wholeheartedly disapproved of her presence at such activities. In those days it just wasn’t lady like. Besides at the time women couldn’t become a fire fighter.

In the 1850s, fire engines in San Francisco were powered by men pulling it by rope. One day in 1858 the Knickerbocker Company found themselves shy several firefighters and were having much difficulty getting their fire engine uphill to the scene of a huge blaze. As usual Lillie, now 15, was among the spectators.

While a number of men stood about passively gawking at the fire, Lillie ran forward and took a place on the rope to assist the struggling firemen. "Come on men! Everybody pull and we'll beat 'em!" she hollered. Her words spurred other onlookers to action and Number 5 was first to reach the fire.

From then on she was on hand at nearly every fire attended by Number 5, although she could never join the fire brigade. Later the Company made her an honorary member presenting her with a gold badge. This made her the only woman in the United States to belong to a volunteer fire station. Lillie treasured the badge and proudly wore it every time she showed up to help at a fire.

But it became more difficult for her as she grew into a young lady. Because her family moved in the upper echelons of San Francisco society her father brought pressure to bear on her to give up her interest in firefighting. Gentlemen and ladies of the socially elite had also begun to either snub or humor her.

Finally, she did stop showing up at fire scenes, but never stopped caring for her beloved firefighters. She visited those sick or injured bearing flowers. It’s said the firemen thought of her as their patron.

After her marriage to Howard Coit, she travelled abroad and was a guest in the court of Napoleon III and the maharaja of India. When her wander lust was satisfied she returned to San Francisco and continued to care for the needs of Number 5’s aging firefighters.

Lillie died July 22, 1929, at the age of 86 leaving a third of her estate to the city of San Francisco. The city built 210 foot Coit Tower in 1933, one of the city's most recognizable landmarks, that stands atop Telegraph Hill in honor of her and the city’s firemen.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Too many women go unrecognized for their contributions to this country.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      What a shame, JY, that Lillie was ahead of her time as a wannabe firefighter. But at least she has a monument dedicated to her and other firemen. Thanks for this interesting tribute.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)