TAKING THE HEAT: The First Women Firefighters of New York City

Women Firefighters Timeline

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Timeline: A History of Women Firefighters

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Archival photo: Eleven women wearing long dresses with full skirts, their hair in Gibson girl buns, stand in front of a brick building. To the left is a water tank, its hose stretched across the group and held by a woman on the far right. In the center, a woman stands on a ladder, a rope hangs over her shoulder.
All-women’s fire brigade, Girton College, 1878

1960s photo: Five women pose around a fire truck, wearing white short-sleeved shirts and dark slacks. Two kneel in front holding a hose, one hangs on the back of the truck, one on the front bumper, another holds an axe; a barn-like structure and tree stand in the background.
The Woodbine Ladies Fire Department, 1967

Some consider fighting fires to be a man’s job, but as long ago as the bucket brigades of the 19th century, women have bravely played an important—if sometimes invisible—role in firefighting.

With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it became illegal for fire departments to prevent women from applying for jobs as firefighters. Women who came forward—including those featured in TAKING THE HEAT—struggled with ill-fitting equipment, derision from male colleagues and outcast status in the firehouse. In spite of these issues, women have continued to make great strides in the profession since the days of the bucket brigades.

According to Women in the Fire Service, as of 2005, there were approximately 6,160 women career firefighters in the United States and 28 fire departments with women as their top-level chief.

Track the history of women firefighters, from 1818 until today, and learn more about the pioneers of the profession.

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