Lillie Hitchcock Coit

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Lillie Hitchcock Coit, 1862


Lillie Hitchcock Coit (August 23, 1843 in West Point – July 22, 1929 in San Francisco) was a well-known volunteer firefighter, wife of Howard Coit, and the benefactor for the construction of the Coit Tower in San Francisco. An exhibit detailing these events can be seen at the Women's Museum of California in San Diego.


In 1851, she moved to California from West Point with her parents,[1] Charles, an Army doctor, and Martha Hitchcock.

'Firebelle Lil' Coit was one of the more eccentric characters in the history of North Beach and Telegraph Hill, smoking cigars and wearing trousers long before it was socially acceptable for women to do so. She was an avid gambler and often dressed like a man in order to gamble in the males-only establishments that dotted North Beach. Coit was reputed to have shaved her head so her wigs would fit better.

Lillie had a special relationship with the city's firefighters. She had from very early days of her life been fascinated and enamored of the red shirted and helmeted fire fighters. At the age of fifteen she witnessed the Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5 in response to a fire call up on Telegraph Hill when they were shorthanded; she threw her school books to the ground and pitched in to help, calling out to other bystanders to help get the engine up the hill to the fire, to get the first water onto the blaze. After that Lillie became the Engine Co. mascot[1] and could barely be constrained by her parents from jumping into action at the sound of every fire bell. After this she was frequently riding with the Knickerbocker Engine Co. 5,[1] especially so in street parades and celebrations in which the Engine Co. participated. Through her youth and adulthood Lillie was recognized as an honorary firefighter.

Coit left one-third of her estate to the City of San Francisco, which used this money to build Coit Tower[1] on the site of the first west coast telegraph, a semaphore line completed in 1849.

Coit commissioned another neighborhood landmark, a statue of three firefighters at the northwest corner of Washington Square Park.


  1. ^ a b c d "Guide to the Lillie Hitchcock Coit Collection, 1865-1880". California State Library. Retrieved 25 November 2012. 

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