First Women Firefighters in NYC


On this day in Labor History the year was 1982.

That was the day that eleven women graduated from the New York City Fire Academy.

They were the first women firefighters ever to serve in the city of New York since the department was founded in 1865.

The inclusion of women firefighters did not come easily to New York.

In 1977 for the first-time women were allowed to apply to be firefighters.

Although many women had passed the written part of the exam they were continually denied employment because all failed the physical test.

The women sued citing discrimination.

One of the leaders of the suit was applicant Brenda Berman.

The Federal District Court in Brooklyn sided with the women.

Not everyone was happy about the decision.

A group of demonstrators came to City Hall before the graduation, with signs reading “I want to be save by Firemen.”

The Uniformed Firefighters Association challenged the ruling.

They tried to block the ceremony in the courts, arguing that training requirement had been changed to accommodate the women.

Despite the legal challenges the ceremony went on as scheduled.

In his speech Mayor Ed Koch said, “As all of us have known all along, bravery and valor know no sex.”

After the graduation, the controversy over women firefighters continued.

The women often faced sexual harassment on the job, and vilification on the editorial pages of city newspapers.

Bumper stickers reading “Don’t send a girl to do a man’s job” could be seen on the car bumpers of many male firefighters and at the city firehouses.

The women firefighters stood up to the harassment, testifying before the City Council and holding street demonstrations to bring awareness to their plight.

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