With Nancy J. Farrier
|Lillie in 1862|
Lillie Hitchcock was born at West Point in 1843. Her father, Charles, was an Army doctor, and in 1851 he transferred to a post in San Francisco. He chose his profession despite an inheritance that left him fairly wealthy. He passed on his determination and desire to pursue a dream to his daughter.
Shortly after they moved to San Francisco, Lillie, at age seven, had her first introduction to the firefighters she came to love. She was rescued from a burning hotel’s upper floor by the Knickerbockers Number 5, a volunteer team. Unharmed by the fire, Lillie developed a fondness for the Knickerbocker’s red shirts and became a follower, showing up when they fought a fire and cheering them with such enthusiasm others showed up to watch her.
One story talks of the Knickerbockers heading for a fire, pulling their engine, but falling behind on hill. Many of their members hadn’t been available to help. Lillie spotted them as she headed home from school. She threw her books to the ground and raced over to take up an empty spot in the line. She hadn’t much strength, but her fervent encouragement caused several in the crowd of onlookers to join the firefighters in their hurry to get to the fire. The Knickerbockers won the race and were able to put first water on the fire, a noble achievement at that time.
|Lillie in Uniform|
In October 1863, Lillie became the first and only woman in the United States to belong to a volunteer fire company. Her beloved Knickerbockers Number 5, bestowed an honorary membership on Lillie Hitchcock. She took this membership so seriously it is said she sewed the numeral 5 on her undergarments. She went around town with the gold badge pinned to her clothing. She loved seeing this dream come true as she became a member of the fire team.
Lillie became an heiress when her grandfather died, and traveled extensively. She met and married the wealthy and handsome, Howard Coit, a man she barely knew but resolved to marry early on. Howard became enthralled with Lillie and her adventurous spirit when she defied tradition and engaged in unusual pastimes for a woman, such as betting on horse races and playing poker. Oftentimes, she had to disguise herself as a man to participate in the amusement that attracted her.
|Lillie's Honorary Certificate|
No matter where Lillie traveled she always came back to San Francisco, her home. She appeared in the court of Napoleon and a maharaja of India. She brought back many valuable pieces of jewelry and art.
|Photo by Kkmd,|
A committee formed to decide what to do with her the amount she bequeathed. They decided to erect a tower on Telegraph Hill, the very hill where Lillie first helped get the Knickerbocker’s engine to the fire. The monument, Coit Tower, stands tall over the city.
|Photo by David Spaldings|
There are many more stories of Lillie’s exploits. Have you ever heard of Lillie Hitchcock Coit? Have you visited Coit Tower or seen the firefighter statue in Washington Square? Some day I hope to visit both. What a remarkable woman.
Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.