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History of Women in Policing

A History of Women in Policing

These women were motivated by a sense that women activists contributed a positive, feminine approach to addressing society's ills. Throughout the United States, women were hired to protect and administer to incarcerated women and juveniles. In 1845, New York City officials hired two women to work as matrons in the city's two jails after the American Female Moral Reform Society campaigned for the matron positions to be created. They hoped the police would hire matrons for the police stations as well; however the police department itself blocked this. Mary Owens received the rank of policeman from the Chicago Police Department in 1893. She was a widow whose husband had been an officer for the department. Occasionally a department would employ widows as a type of death benefit for their husbands. Early on police departments seldom offered death benefits and hiring widows was a way of compensating them. Mary Owens worked for thirty years for the department; she assisted on cases involving women and children. She was the first woman to receive arrest powers. In 1905 Lola Baldwin was given police powers and put in charge of a group of social workers in order to aid the Portland, Oregon Police Department during the Lewis and Clark Exposition. She was the first woman to work as a sworn police officer in the United States. City leaders felt that some measures had to be taken to protect the "moral safety" of the young women of Portland. Along this same direction the city in 1908 created the Department of Public Safety for the Protection Young Girls and Women, making Baldwin the director of the program.

1910 - 1920

Alice Stebbin Wells was the first woman to be called a policewoman; she joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1910. There has been some disagreement as to who is more accurately referred to as the "first woman police officer" in the U.S. Several historians have described Wells as the first policewoman in the country, however others have argued that Baldwin should be considered the first policewoman. Part of the difficulty in asserting a "first" is that from the onset, the job description for women officers has been varied and has overlapped with duties we now consider to be social work rather than law enforcement. Matrons, social workers, and women working for private organizations all worked in positions of some authority for the moral betterment of society. None of these women had the same status as the men working as police officers. These women did push to get opportunities for women wanting a career in law enforcement, and their efforts made inroads in the struggle toward women's equality. In 1915, the International Association of Policewomen was created in an effort to help organize a broad base of support for women choosing a career in policing. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s Americans widely accepted the idea that women's inherent nurturing qualities should be focused on fixing societal problems associated with moral weakness. As a result, numerous women's bureaus were started up across the country in police stations. These bureaus worked on cases relating to women and children, such as young runaways, shoplifting, and prostitution.

1930 - 1940

In the 1930s with the Great Depression came changes in how employment was popularly viewed, and women's empoyment suffered because of this. A married woman with a job was seen as wrongfully taking a job away from a man who needed it to support his family. Women were always assumed to be on their way to getting married, if they were not already married, and therefore not needing a job. As jobs became more scarce, women's career aspirations suffered. This time period also saw a change in how law enforcement officers perceived their social role. In the mid-1930s the FBI was formed, and law enforcement officers began to project a role of "combatant of crime," turning away from the idea that police should work as social agents against moral decline or destitution.

World War II brought changes to policing personnel. More women were hired during the war, but most of these women were confined to auxiliary work. The women that joined the police force during this period were there to assist new men employed, who could not join the military, in their duties . So women worked as dispatchers or clerical workers within the departments, whereas men still had patrol duties and worked as the crime fighters. Women worked primarily as either helpers to the men or they worked with children and young women. The role that women police officers originally filled as social workers still strongly defined how women were used in the police force.

After World War II

The 1950s saw a doubling of the number of women in law enforcement in the United States. Although the overall number of women making up law enforcement officers remained relatively low, the 1950s saw a marked increase in the number of women officers. Perhaps even more encouraging, the 1950s and early 1960s for some women brought about a change in how women police officers saw their advancement in the profession. There was a new push to advance women in the profession through integration with the men. Some of the younger working-class women wanted to work in the same departments with men, doing the same work. This time period saw the re-establishment of the International Association of Women Police and an increased enthusiasm for the profession as a career distinct from that of social worker. All these changes led to greater demands for equal treatment and opprotunities for women police officers, and in 1968 two women from the Indianapolis Police department were allowed to go on patrol duty just as the men got to. This was the beginning of a change in policing that would have a dramatic effect on women in law enforcement everywhere. The women's movement as well as advances in the law helped to change how women were able to excel on the police force throughout the 70's and 80's. In 1972 Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was expanded to include public agencies and as a result police departments were prohibited by law from discriminating against women in hiring, recruiting, promotions, and working conditions. Also at this time two laws, the Revenue Sharing Act and the Crime Control Act, both concentrated on withholding funds from departments that discriminated. From 1960 to 1980 the percentage of women in police agencies doubled and the greater numbers brought greater opportunities and challenges. From the 70's into the 90's women in law enforcement agencies have worked for an equal role in all facets of policing, on patrol, in command positions, and in promoting and recruiting officers. In 1985 Penny Harrington became the first woman to be named Chief of Police for a major city, Portland, Oregon, and in Atlanta, Georgia in 1994 Beverly J. Harvard became the first African American woman to be made Chief of Police for a large city. These accomplishments are a strong testament to the courage and perseverance that women have shown throughout the history of women in policing.




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