Molly, by Golly!

Ochiltree, Dianne, and Kathleen H. Kemly. Molly, by Golly!: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter. Honesdale, Pa: Calkins Creek, 2012. Print.


Dianne Ochiltree and Kathleen Kimly have provided an accessible, albeit fictionalized account of America’s first female firefighter, an African-American named Molly Williams. The story, crafted from legend and a few available facts portrays Molly Williams as a servant-cook who took up the firefighter’s role in a time of need.

The story heralds Molly’s actions as heroic, but it is her motivation that provides the real life lesson for young readers. Molly was faced with a circumstance where the opportunity to do good took precedence over any other role that was assigned or expected of her. Encouraging young readers and future firefighters to do the same in the name of unselfish public service is at the heart of the lessons to be learned from Molly, by Golly!

Additional information and background is included on the historic development of firefighting at the end of the book along with a section of frequently asked questions.  Young readers will be comfortable with the illustrative content, but others may find the plump Molly a tired stereotype of African-American women. Despite that objection, the watercolors provide the appropriate images for a folktale for young children.

Teachers and librarians will want to include Molly in classroom activities of all sorts. Besides the obvious connections to firefighting and public service, the content does provide elementary-aged students a glimpse into a neglected area of early American city life. Add this piece of Americana to the collection with confidence that it will circulate and spark conversation about life past and present.