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Historical Photos of the Earliest Female Firefighters from the Early 20th Century

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).

#1 The UK Women’s Fire Brigade takes a salute, 1916.

#3 Conducting a drill with hoses and extinguishers, 1916.

#4 Members of the Woman’s Fire Brigade with their chief officer, 1916.

#7 Women of Achille Serre Ltd’s Private Fire Brigade head off to compete in the London Fire Brigades’ Tournament, 1925.

#8 A member of the Achille Serre Ladies Fire Brigade in London, 1926.

#10 Demonstrating the use of a portable fire extinguisher, 1928.

#12 Staff of the Girls Fire Brigade in Berkshire, 1930.

#14 Group of Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) women “keeping fit” with a game of leap-frog, 1939.

#15 An AFS member during morning inspection at a Manchester fire station, 1939.

#16 AFS women work at the London fire regional control room, 1940.

#17 New recruits in the control room at London’s Auxiliary Fire Service, 1941.

#18 chorus girls respond to the call for volunteer “fire watchers” are trained by the Newcastle Fire Brigade, 1941.

#19 Women train at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard during WWII, 1941.

#20 Training at the UK’s Royal Northern Hospital in Holloway practice for blitz fires, 1941.

#21 Training at the Imperial War Museum Fire Fighting School, 1942.

#22 Female firefighters during a skills demonstration, 1942.

#23 Volunteer fire guards stow away a hose into a portable trailer, 1942.

Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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