A Philanthropist and the patroness of San Francisco’s volunteer firefighters, the benefactor of the Coit Tower in San Francisco.
Lillie Hitchcock was born in West Point, New York, and at the age of 7, the family moved to San Francisco, California. Not long after, she was rescued from a burning hotel by the Knickerbockers Number 5. Fascinated by the firefighters and their missions, she started watching them and cheering them on their job. One day, on her way home, she witnessed firefighters responding to a call on Telegraph Hill. Short of staff, they struggled to pull the engine up the hill, 15 years old Coit, rushed to help them, taking the empty spot on the line. From that day on, she became the mascot of the company, rushing out for every alarm, and earning the nickname “Firebelle Lil.”
Growing older, she was known for her eccentric behavior – smoking cigars, wearing trousers, and gambling. She even used to dress like a man to enter the male-only gamblers’ clubs. When her father died, she inherited his fortune, which allowed her to travel to Europe back and forth. She stopped following the firefighters regularly but always visited them on her visits in the US, giving them souvenirs from her travel, joining their parades, and attending their banquets. When she was 20 years old, she became an honorary member of the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5, the first woman in the US to be a firefighter squad member.
At age 26, she married Howard Coit, a caller at the San Francisco Stock Exchange, and together they continued to travel around the world.
Coit died in San Francisco at the age of 86. Her ashes were placed at a mausoleum, next to various firefighting memorials. She left one-third of her wealth to the city of San Francisco. It was spent building the Coit Tower, a beautiful tower on Telegraph Hill, as well as for sponsoring a statue of three firefighters at the corner of Washington Square Park, one of them depicted carrying a young girl to safety.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- Her father was an army doctor.
- She was an only child.
- She stitched the number 5 on her underwear – as a symbol of the Knickerbocker Engine Company, No. 5.
- She once was a guest at the court of Napoleon III, emperor of the French.
- At 37 she separated from her husband after 11 years of marriage.
- She never had children.