Dianne Ochiltree Children's Author


Publishers Weekly:

Ochiltree and Kemly share the little-known story of Molly Williams, an African-American woman who, in the early 1800s, went from cooking for New York City’s volunteer firefighters to battling blazes alongside them as the first female firefighter. The men of Fire Company No. 11 adore Molly’s hasty pudding and apple tansey, but when a fire breaks out during a blizzard, she races outdoors to warn the neighborhood, then helps haul out the pumper engine, carry buckets, and combat the fire. Kemly’s snow-streaked illustrations show Molly as a woman of determination and strength, and a sense of both danger and heroism radiates from the story.


School Library Journal:

Williams was a cook for New York City’s volunteer Fire Company 11 in the early 1800s. When a snowstorm and influenza threatened to cripple the firefighters’ efforts, the African American woman fled her kitchen as the first church bells announced a fire nearby. She alerted the runners to gather buckets and volunteers, fetched water from the river, pumped the engine, sprayed the blazing wooden house, and“pulled down chunks of burning roof with a hooked iron rod.” From then on, she was known as “Volunteer No. 11,” the first woman firefighter in America. Mouths will water at the mention of Molly’s delectable 19th-century dishes such as hasty pudding, chicken roly-poly, hot apple tansey, and venison stew–students will probably want to research the recipes as well. They can also compare the tools, equipment, and practice of firefighting today to that of 200 years ago. Vibrant watercolor illustrations are filled with historical details; windmills, butter churns, cobblestoned streets, wooden houses with thatched roofs, and weather vanes capture the“small town” community in which everyone pitches in to avert crisis. This attractive, engaging, carefully researched title will not only enrich firefighting units, but is also recommended for women’s history and lessons on post-Colonial life.

Kirkus Reviews:

The first American female firefighter was an African-American cook in the first quarter of the 19th century in New York City.

Ochiltree and Kemly tell Molly Williams’ story in lively prose and richly modeled watercolors. Molly cooked for Mr. Aymar, who was also a volunteer firefighter for the Oceanus Engine Company No. 11. A heavy snowstorm and a wave of influenza laid many of the volunteers low, so Molly took herself out of the kitchen and alerted runners—the boys who spread the alarm—and then put on a leather helmet and gloves and worked beside the men pumping water from the river, passing buckets of water hand to hand, until finally the blaze was out. All the pages are double-spread, full-bleed images, showing much period detail along with the flames and falling snow and Molly’s signature bright blue calico dress and checkered apron. Faces are broad and full of emotion, with Molly’s strong brown face showing every nuance of determination and courage. The bibliography includes titles for children and for adults, as well as websites and other links. There is also a FAQ that clearly explains many of the historical details.

A pleasing historical tidbit.


BrodartVibe's Blog:

Set in the early 1800s in New York City, Molly by Golly! is the story of Molly Williams, who was a cook for a volunteer firefighter and regularly prepared meals for the men of the community who also served in this capacity. Thus it was one wintry day that when she heard the church bells clang signaling a fire, she rushed to be of help. This time, however, it was not food that was needed, but extra hands as sickness had severely limited the number of men who responded.

Molly did not hesitate. Donning a leather fireman’s hat, she pitched in to help. And help she did. She helped pull the heavy tanker to the scene of the fire, passed water on the bucket brigade, worked on the pumper, manned a hose, and pulled down parts of burning walls. In the end she received the highest compliment she could hope for from the Fire Captain: “Molly, by golly, you’re as fine a fire lad as any!”

While classified as a legend since so many story details had to be imagined by Ochiltree, Molly Williams was a real person and in fire fighting histories is mentioned as “the first known female fire fighter in America.”

The story flows well and the illustrations by Kathleen Kemly are in double page spreads suffused with vibrant reds and blues against the snowy backdrop of an early American city. Fire fighting methods are accurately portrayed, even those not mentioned in the text, so the pictures add detail to the story. Molly’s blue print dress and red checked apron are historically what she was said to wear. Both the motion and emotion of responding to a crisis situation are reflected in the lively illustrations.

This picture book would be very appropriate for use in units on women who made a difference and of course in units about firefighting, especially during Fire Prevention Week. Ochiltree has supplied a wealth of material in the back of the book to aid in research.

However, no matter how "useful" a picture book is in education, it needs to stand first and foremost as an exciting and delightful experience in and off itself. Molly, by Golly is a winner in every way.


The Feathered Quill:

It’s not often that I am graced with a children's book that is not only a fantastic story and beautifully illustrated, but is also a walk through history that any and all adults and children will absolutely love!

Molly Williams is a very real figure. Back in the early 1800's in New York City, Molly was a cook for a local Fire Company. She was the best at everything, making these men dishes that (will!) make your mouth water; Molly was loved and appreciated by the men.

One night, a hideous snowstorm hit the City and many of the men were struck down with influenza. And, sure enough, that’s when a blaze went up and hardly any of the men from the Company were able to respond. Molly was far more than a cook. Without even thinking about her own life, she put on the uniform and raced out into the snowstorm. She helped the men who were able to arrive pull the "fire truck" down the road and worked until ash had practically buried her in order to save the family and stop the blaze.

Molly is one of those heroic people who come along every now and then. She was full of love, kindness, and the courage to save lives! This book not only shows a very thrilling, action-filled tale - but the historical information about how fires were actually put out way back then - from what the uniforms looked like to how difficult it was to get the fire "equipment" to the blaze - is extremely interesting to read about. And, the historical facts and extra information in the back of the book will offer you and your child a very cool look into the rich, vibrant history of the American Firefighter. True heroes and heroines!

Quill Says: Perfectly written with stunning illustrations, this is by far (and, so far) the best children’s book of 2012!


Good Reads with Ronna: 

Molly, by Golly: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter ($16.95, Calkins Creek, Ages 7 and up) could not have come across my desk at a better time. It's August, I live in Miami and every page of this book is magically illustrated with beautifully falling snow.  Naturally I found this very comforting and cooling.

Molly is an African American lady who cooks for the men of the New York Fire Company in the early 1800s. There is a blizzard outside, and many of the firefighters are home sick. Molly discovers there is a terrible fire in the city and is so concerned about the lack of workers, she runs through the snowy streets to the scene of the fire and instantly begins to lend a hand. What she does wins the hearts of the not just the firefighters, but all the people of the city.

What I love about Molly, by Golly is that it accurately depicts the era of the early 1800s. Author Dianne Ochiltree discovered a legend about Molly Williams while doing research for another historical fiction piece. To make the tale truly come to life, she was meticulous about depicting accurate firefighting techniques of that time period. I also applaud the fact that this is a book about heroine, an African American woman who stepped in when it was completely unexpected but desperately needed. Readers will truly appreciate the modern equipment we have available today as compared to back then!

You will thoroughly enjoy the superb, vivid illustrations by artist Kathleen Kemly, who studied old fire equipment at the NY City Fire Museum before beginning her work. In the back of the book are some great questions and answers, a list of additional valuable resources and a bibliography.

I highly recommend this book, as it would make a wonderful gift for any child.



Examiner.com/Alan W. Petrucelli:

Who knew?

One winter day in the early 1800s, New York City’s Fire Company Number 11 was in trouble. A deadly snowstorm was blowing and many of the volunteers are sick in bed. When the fire alarm sounded, who answered the call? Who saved the neighborhood?

It’s Molly, by golly ... Molly Williams, the company’s cook.

Clapping a weathered leather helmet on her head, strapping spatter dashes over her woolen leggings and pulling on heavy work gloves, off she went to the rescue.

What do you know about America's First Female Firefighter?

We knew nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

So when Molly, By Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America's First Female Firefighter (Calkins Creek) arrived, we devoured the children’s book with zest. Author Dianne Ochiltree and artist Kathleen Kemly worked closely with curators at New York City Fire Museum and Aurora (Illinois) Regional Fire Museum to make certain the facts were correct. After all, they wanted to extinguish any beliefs out there that men are always so, well, hot.

Molly, By Golly! also contains several helpful resources, including firefighting websites and links, a select bibliography, recommended books about firefighting, and information on finding fire museums across the country.

Simply done and never simplistic, the book is a treasure and will ignite discussions.


Molly Williams is Fire Company No. 11's cook, and she's the finest in New York City. The fire fighters knew that Molly put her heart and soul into everything she did, and one blustery wintry day she would prove just how wonderful she was. A terrible snowstorm is blowing, many people are sick with the flu, and now there's a fire at a house in town. When the alarm bells ring Molly is surprised at how few volunteers are able to come help, so she she straps on an old leather helmet, spatterdashes, and work gloves and runs out to help. For hours Molly helps fight the fire and never gives up. A wonderful story about courage, strength, and determination. Young readers will also learn how fires were fought in the early 1800's. (Ages 4-8)


Embracing the Child:

This legendary tale introduces young readers to Molly Williams, an African American cook for New York City's Fire Company 11, who is considered to be the first known female firefighter in U.S. history.

One winter day in 1818, when many of the firefighting volunteers are sick with influenza and a small wooden house is ablaze, Molly jumps into action and helps stop the blaze, proudly earning the nickname Volunteer Number 11.

Relying on historic records and pictures and working closely with firefighting experts, Dianne Ochiltree and artist Kathleen Kemly not only bring this spunky and little-known heroine to life but also show how fires were fought in early America. 



Diane Ochiltree, with the help of wonderfully drawn illustrations by Kathleen Kemly, has brought to our attention another American hero, Molly Williams.

Ochiltree tells the story of Williams and her courageous undertaking when she helped out in fighting a fire in New York City at a time when many of the regular firefighters were unable to serve because of a widespread illness.

Young readers will be proud of the courage shown by Miss Williams and will appreciate her more when they learn it is a true story.

In addition to telling a wonderful (true) story with vivid illustrations, the book has a world of information such as firefighting web sites, a selected bibliography, and questions and other information on firefighting.


San Francisco Book Review:

Molly Williams was a terrific cook. The men of New York’s Volunteer Fire Company 11 were grateful to have Molly cooking for them. She actually worked for Mr. Aymer, a member of their company, but Molly cooked for the company as well. One night in the dead of winter as an influenza epidemic gripped the city, Molly heard church bells tolling a code for a fire in their district. Mr. Aymer was sick in bed, so Molly ran through the streets, helping to get the message out that fire was burning and the volunteers needed to come and put out the fire. Many were sick, so Molly put on a helment, grabbed some gear, and helped to pull the fire wagon to the blaze. But she didn’t stop there. She battled the fire herself, side by side with the other volunteers. She is believed to be the first female firefighter in America.

"She clapped a weathered leather helmet on her head, strapped spatterdashes over her woolen leggings, and pulled on heavy work gloves."

Dianne Ochiltree has written a fascinating, well-researched tale of this legend. There is plenty of interesting back matter as will. The charming illustrations by Kathleen Kemly are the perfect complement for Molly’s story.



Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant:

The Oceanus Engine Company No. 11, part of New York City’s Fire Department in the early 1800’s, was stricken by an influenza outbreak among the firemen. When a fire started on a cold and blizzard-like day, most of the firemen were too sick to battle the blaze. Molly Williams, the African-American cook for Mr. Aymar, one of the volunteer firemen, realized how desperate the situation was and took matters into her own competent hands. She sent young boys known as alert runners into the neighborhoods to warn people about the fire. She also put on a helmet and work gloves and stood beside the available men to pump water from the river. The vivid illustrations portray the heat from the fire juxtaposed against the snowy blizzard as well as the period detail in clothes and buildings and fire equipment. This little-known story shows Molly’s great courage as well as a providing a piece of American history portraying a real hero. Teachers may want to read more of about Molly at the author’s website


Through The Looking Glass/Marya Janson-Gruber:

Molly Williams works for Mr. Aymar, who is a member of the No. 11 volunteer fire company. This means that she takes care of “the lads” in the company as well as her employer. What no one fully realizes is that Molly can “put hands and heart to every task, in or out of the kitchen.”

One snowy night a fire breaks out, and with so many of the men suffering from the influenza, the No. 11 volunteer fire company is shorthanded. Molly rushes to the fire station, and without being asked she dons the leather helmet, gloves and other clothes that the firemen wear when they are called out. In no time she is helping men to pull the heavy pumper engine to the scene of the fire. Then she helps with a bucket brigade, and when the pumper engine is full of water, she helps to crank the pump handles. If there is a job to be done, Molly can be depended on to help in any way she can.

In this inspirational tale, Dianne Ochiltree tells the story of America’s first female firefighter, an African American woman who lived in New York City in the early 1800s. The author paints a realistic picture of what it was like to work as a firefighter in the 19th century, and readers will be amazed to hear how tough and brave Molly was.

At the back of the book the author provides readers with further information about Molly Williams’s life.



Sarasota Herald-Tribune/Susan Rife:


It was while children’s book author Dianne Ochiltree was doing research into the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire that destroyed San Francisco that she stumbled upon the story of Molly Williams, the first female firefighter in America.

Williams was a cook for Oceanus Company 11 of the New York Fire Department in the early years of the 19th century. When most of the volunteer company was laid up with the flu on a snowy winter’s night, Williams answered the call to duty when a fire broke out in a neighborhood house.

The resulting picture book, “Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s Fire Female Firefighter” (Calkins Creek, $16.95) has just been published. It will be launched at a book party Sept. 1 at Bookstore1Sarasota, complete with a fire truck and a female fire captain, Susan Pearson, from the Sarasota County Fire Department.

Molly Williams “is a very wonderful role model for future firefighters,” said Ochiltree. “To me she’s a gutsy woman, and I imagine that our special guests will certainly relate at the Bookstore1 event.”

Ochiltree has been writing since childhood and is the author of several picture books, including “Ten Monkey Jamboree,” “Sixteen Runaway Pumpkins” and “Lull-a-bye, Little One.” A longtime part-time Sarasotan, she and her husband became full-time residents in 2008.

Williams’ story, said Ochiltree, was passed down in the oral tradition among firefighters until Frank J. Kernan wrote “Reminiscences of the Old Fire Laddies and Volunteer Fire Departments of New York and Brooklyn, Together with a Complete History of the Paid Department of Both Cities,” in 1885. Her story also is included in “Our Firemen: A History of the New York Fire Departments, Volunteer and Paid, from 1609 to 1887″ by Augustine E. Costello (published in 1891) and in Sylvia G.L. Dannett’s “Profiles in Negro Womanhood, Vol. 1, 1600-1900,” published in 1964.

But more than a retelling of a remarkable woman’s contributions to her community, “Molly, by Golly” gives Ochiltree the chance to explore the customs of firefighting in history.

“To me, the story is more about the spirit of Firefighters in general through history. The tools, the techniques, the machinery changes, but not the fact that those men and woman are willing to place their lives on the line to save other people’s lives, homes and businesses.”

Ochiltree’s research taught her, among other things, that early pumper engines were not pulled to the scene of a fire by horses, but rather were dragged, empty, by people, who then filled them with water via bucket brigade. Teams of volunteers then worked the pump handles up and down to create pressure to power water through fire hoses to to the flames.



The Post and Courier:


Who was the first female firefighter in the United States? It was Molly Williams. An African-American woman, she lived in the early 1800s and worked as the cook for volunteer firefighters in New York City.

A heavy snowstorm and a particularly bad flu season took their toll and dwindled the number of volunteer firefighters.

When a bad fire breaks out, Molly puts her cooking aside and begins warning the neighbors. She helps haul the pumper truck into action, fills buckets with water and dons a hat and gloves to work along side the firefighters.

The full-spread illustrations and lively text bring the historical tale of Williams to life for young readers. There also is a nice question-and-answer section at the back of the book filled with interesting facts.