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Related Museum Links 1939 Biography of Lillie Hitchcock Coit

History of the San Francisco Fire Department

Coit Tower Murals

San Francisco History
1846 - 1864


A history of the old Volunteer Fire Department [1849-1866] would be wanting in completeness if it did not contain some reference to the lady whose name stands at the head of this sketch.

photograph of Lillie Hitchcock-CoitShe is the patron saint of all pioneer firemen of the city, and if the survivors of that once sturdy brotherhood could have their most ardent wish gratified then the lot of Mrs. Hitchcock-Coit would be a supremely happy one in this life. From her earliest infancy, when as Miss Lillie Hitchcock, she romped in short frocks, she was curiously fascinated by the red shirt and warlike helmet of the firemen, and gloried in the excitement of a big blaze. As a child, still in her teens, she displayed extraordinary enthusiasm when the fire bell tolled out its alarms, and with an energy and speed that the most agile fireman might envy she hastened to the scene of the fire. She was always in the forefront on such occasions, and became such a conspicuous figure among the firemen who were battling to subdue the flames, that she became to be regarded as their mascot, and was made an honorary member of the Knickerbocker Engine Company, No. 5. The gold badge, presented to her when conferring the gift of honorary membership, she wears constantly, and as a girl attended many a fire wearing this emblem of the firemen's affection, and became so strongly identified with her company that she was regarded by the citizens with peculiar interest and affection. As years rolled by and Miss Hitchcock became older, she forsook the habit of following the engine, but the tie that bound her to her company was as strong as ever. In later life her interest in the firemen’s cause has suffered no abatement. If any member of the company falls ill she gladdens the sick room by her presence and ministers to his wants, and should death claim him she sends a loving floral tribute as the final expression of her regard. At the annual [Knickerbocker Engine Co.] banquet, on October 17th, again she shows her mindfulness of the “old boys” of her company by gifts to adorn the festive board. It is no wonder that the firemen of No. 5 swear by her, and the companies vied with each other to do her honor in the old days. Among the priceless objects religiously cherished by the Exempts, and which now adorns their meeting room at Brenham place is a bust of herself presented to the Exempt Company a few years ago. Her name and record are lovingly and inseparably intertwined with the happiest associations of the old Volunteers, and as long as a memory of that organization shall last hers will be preserved.

Mrs. Hitchcock-Coit has numerous mementos of her association with Knickerbocker Engine Company. There is her fireman’s hat and red shirt emblems of her honorary membership; there is her certificate of membership bearing date October 5, 1863, and which is beautifully etched in pen and ink, with exquisite skill and taste; and there is her gold badge. All of these she values for the memories they awaken.

Mrs. Hitchcock-Coit came to California as a child with her parents. Her father was a surgeon and a graduate of West Point, she being the only child. After her marriage she traveled extensively in the East, in Europe and the Orient, but notwithstanding all her wanderings, her love for California has been steadfast and paramount, and she has made it her permanent home. When in the city, Mrs. Hitchcock-Coit makes the Palace Hotel her headquarters. She has a beautiful home at Larkmead, Napa. County.

In: The Exempt Firemen of San Francisco : Their Unique and Gallant Record, with a Resumé of the San Francisco Fire Department and its Personnel; Historical, Biographical. [San Francisco : H. C. Pendleton], 1900 : pp. 83-84.
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