BOOKS: Firehorse

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January-February 2007:

Firehorse by Diane Lee Wilson
Margaret K. McElderry Books (c/o Simon & Schuster, 1230 Ave. of the
Americas, New York, NY 10020), 2006. 325 pages, paperback.

Researching the Great Boston Fire of 1872, Firehorse author
Diane Lee Wilson discovered the diary of a 14-year-old girl who had
lived in Boston at the time. The book is woven around that girl’s
hopes and dreams.
The Great Fire broke out after a horse flu epidemic that
spread across North America had immobilized Boston’s fire horses.
Firefighting equipment had to be pulled by volunteers on foot. This
is often cited as the leading reason why the fire got out of control,
but the city commission which later investigated the fire found that
fire crews’ response times were delayed by only minutes.

Wilson portrays the courage of the firemen, and their
horses, as they battled the many fires that were a much more
frequent part of life in the era of kerosene lamps, coal-burning
stoves, and flammable wooden roofs which were common on most
The 1872 fire was by far the most disastrous of several great
fires that Boston suffered. It destroyed more than 65 acres of the
most valuable business property of the city, burning out at least a
thousand businesses, including almost 300 in wholesale dry goods.
Against this incendiary background is the story of a
headstrong young woman, Rachel, whose love of horses and need for
emancipation brings on confrontation with her bigoted father. A
local newspaper editor, he believes that a woman’s place is in the
Wilson highlights a time when women could not vote, could
not own property, and a retired Harvard medical professor even
published a book warning that women who strived for higher levels of
learning risked the atrophy of their reproductive organs.
–Beverley Pervan

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