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Strength & Stamina: Women in the Fire Department - Home
Early Years: 1883-1915
Fully Manned: 1915-1960
A Man Among Men: 1960-1975
Minority Recruitment and Women
Development of a Pre-Recruit Program
The First Woman Firefighter in Seattle
Early Discrimination
The End of the Pre-Recruit Program
Pregnancy and Disability
Equal Terms?
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Strength & Stamina: Women in the Fire Department

Minority Recruitment and Women

annual report
Annual report

In 1969, against a backdrop of racial unrest, a trainee program was established for minorities. The 1968 annual report said, "Simply stated, the plan consists of employing potentially capable men who lack necessary qualifications for immediate entrance into the Department and training them-for as long as four years, if necessary-until they are able to successfully compete for regular employment…" In the first year, three trainees passed the entrance exam and became members of the Department, and by 1971 there were 25. In 1973, a full-time Minority Affirmative Action Officer was appointed.


In the early 1970s, many of those who entered the Department from the military after World War II were ready to retire. A focus on recruiting resulted in 83 men in the 1973 recruit class, the largest to date in the Department's history. By 1989, largely because of the City's commitment to affirmative action, minorities constituted 20% of the Department's personnel.

On a national level, women were active firefighters as far back as the 1800s, but the positions were voluntary and primarily in rural, semi-urban and private fire departments. Women pursued careers as paid firefighters in the 1970s in several cities: Sandra Forcier in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1973, Judith Livers in Arlington County, Virginia in 1974, and Genois Wilson in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1975.


Although minority men were a focus of recruiting in the 1960s, women were not. The first woman to work in the Seattle Fire Department in any capacity was Marcella Delfel Hook, employed from 1942 to 1943 as a stenographer and clerical worker in the Chief's Office. A Seattle Firefighters Ladies' Auxiliary was formed in October 1966 to provide aid to families and assist at social events.


After Marcella Delfel Hook, other women were employed by the Fire Department through the 1960s, but all as clerical staff. For example, Mildred L. Oman, single and 23, was employed at almost the same time as Hook. Women often did not work more than two years. The reasons they cited for leaving included ill health, pregnancy, and pursuing more suitable employment. One woman, Hilde Meer, resigned because she was dissatisfied with the work; another, Barbara Ruth Lippert, left because the work was too hard to keep up with. In the early 1960s, women employees were more often married but still did not usually stay more than one or two years. Reasons for resignations included poor work record, enrolling in school, and pregnancy. In the few instances where men applied for certain clerical positions, they were told the position was "for female only."

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