The first few women in law enforcement were hired in 1845 to be matrons. Far from patrol officers, they were civilians hired to care for women and children in police custody.
It is difficult to name the first female police officer, since there is little agreement on dates and duties. Based on research publicized in 2010, it would appear that Marie Connelly Owens was hired by the Chicago Police Department as a police officer in 1891 (Suntimes.com). In 1898, she joined others in her department in being placed on the civil service rolls as a "regular patrolman" after scoring 99% on her exam (www.fedagent.com).
In 1908, Lola Greene Baldwin was the first full-time, paid female law enforcement officer in Portland, OR. Apparently the first female to have powers of arrest at the LAPD was Alice Stebbins Wells, hired in 1910. She may have been the first person referred to as a "policewomen."
- 1845: New York City hired two police matrons.
- 1878: Many departments across the country hired police matrons.
- 1891: Marie Owens, formerly a city health inspector, was hired as a police officer for the Chicago Police Department. She served for 32 years.
- 1898: Marie Owens passed her civil service exam with a score of 99% and joined others at her department on the civil service rolls.
- 1908: Lola Greene Baldwin was sworn in as a full-time, paid law enforcement officer for Portland, OR.
- 1910: Alice Stebbins Wells was hired by the LAPD and may have been the first female with powers of arrest and the first referred to as a "policewoman."
- 1915: International Association of Policewomen (IAP) was founded. It was disbanded during the Depression.
- 1916: Anna Hart, a jail matron for Hamilton County, OH, was the first female law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty.
- 1918: Policewomen with limited powers were working in more than 200 U.S. cities.
- 1921: Mary E. Hamilton became the first female precinct leader for NYPD.
- 1948: Although 30 percent of FBI employees were women, none were special agents. They all worked in support positions.
- 1956: The International Association of Women Police (IAWP) formed as a continuation of the IAP.
- 1957: Beverly Garland starred in the first American TV police show starring a woman.
- 1960: The number of policewomen had doubled since 1950.
- 1961: In Shpritzer v. Lang, Felicia Shpritzer won her case in front of the Supreme Court of New York after females had been denied the opportunity to take the promotional exam.
- 1965: Felicia Shpritzer and Gertrude Schimmel had the two highest scores on the promotional exam and were sworn in as NYPD's first female sergeants.
- 1968: Elizabeth Robinson and Betty Blankenship of the Indianapolis Police Department were the first women assigned to car patrol duties.
- 1969: President Richard M. Nixon signed Executive Order 11478 which made it illegal to discriminate in the federal service based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or handicap.
Society took a step backward during the 30s and 40s when most employers decided that the few jobs available during the Depression should go to men. During WWII, when many men left for military service, women filled support jobs in police departments but still had limited roles. While 30 percent of FBI employees were women in 1948, they were all in support positions such as secretaries, file clerks, radio operators, fingerprint examiners, or lab technicians. Not one served as a special agent.
In the 1950s and 60s, more and more women worked as police officers rather than filling social work functions. Most notably, "The face of law enforcement across the country was forever changed in 1968 when Indianapolis Police Department policewomen Elizabeth Robinson and Betty Blankenship strapped on their guns and took control of Car 47...These two women made it quite clear that women were capable of all aspects of law enforcement responsibilities," (ICWtorchbearerawards).
President Richard M. Nixon's executive order signed on August 8, 1969, removed the FBI's ban on hiring women as special agents. "Women now held authority to carry firearms, execute search warrants, and make arrests" (NLEOMF.org).
When Patty Fogerson joined the LAPD in 1969, male and female officers shared concerns about how to work with each other. "My first partner didn't know whether he should open the door for me when we got in the car," Fogerson said. Although the term had not been coined, sexual harassment was intense in those early years (LATimes.com). Yet, she persisted and retired from the department in 1994.
Also in 1969, Judith Lewis began working for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "Our uniform was a skirt, high heels, and a blouse. We went through a 10-week academy vs. a 20-week academy for men. We got a 2-inch gun to carry in our purse" (Policemag.com). Very little was equal for male and female law enforcement officers.
The first women in law enforcement struggled to earn an opportunity to try to prove themselves. It would take much more to earn respect and some semblance of fair treatment. In my next blog, I will look at progress made by women in the modern era of this male-dominated field.
Boxall, Bettina, "In a Man's World: Women were a Novelty When Patricia Fogerson Joined the LAPD; 'You Just Kept Your Mouth Shut and Kept Going,' She Says," LATimes.com, 3-3-1994.
Indiana Commission for Women Torchbearer Awards, "Elizabeth Robinson and Betty Blankenship," ICWtorchbearerawards, 2008.
National Center for Women & Policing, "A History of Women in Policing," www.womenandpolicing.com, (accessed 3-20-2013).
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, "The Forgotten Story of Marie Connelly Owens of the Chicago Police Department," www.Fedagent.com, 3-15-2013.
National Law Enforcement Officer Museum, "Women in Law Enforcement Photo Timeline," www.NLEOMF.org, (accessed 3-20-2013).
Scoville, Dean, "The First Female Patrol Officers," Policemag.com, 9-21-2012.
Spielman, Fran, "First Female Cop Hired in 1891, 22 Years Earlier Than Thought," www.Suntimes.com, 9-30-2010.