Historically, firefighting has been a predominantly male profession. Since the 1970s, however, women have made inroads into professional and volunteer fire departments worldwide. Women have served in various fire service roles in the modern era, including as fire chiefs. Even in the countries where they are most represented, they make up less than 20% of firefighters.
Molly Williams was the first female firefighter in the United States in 1818. When she was a slave in New York City, she joined a volunteer engine company. The United Kingdom taught fire drills to young women living in boarding houses, including high ladder rescues. During World War II, Women served in the fire services of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, both as support personnel and as frontline firefighters.
Throughout the 1970s, due to the second-wave feminism movement and equal employment opportunity legislation, official barriers to women’s advancement were removed. In 1976, the first female firefighter was recruited in the United Kingdom (Mary Joy Langdon), while in 1981, the first one was recruited in New Zealand (Anne Barry).