Policewomen: Their First Century and the New Era
By Peter Horne, Ph.D., Professor, Mercer County Community College, Trenton, New Jersey
ver since the founding of police departments in the United States in the mid-19th century, policing has been viewed by most people as a traditionally male occupation. Men still are the overwhelming majority of police officers, and this will continue to be so in the immediate future. Women in policing now make up approximately 13-14 percent of all employees, and the women who pioneered this entry into a male-dominated profession faced many obstacles, but also experienced many rewards. Women have brought about changes in policing. The First Policewoman: 1908 or 1910?
There is some disagreement about who was the first woman to enter a law enforcement agency as a policewoman. By the latter part of the 19th century, numerous jurisdictions employed jail and prison matrons. These women were hired to handle women and children held in correctional facilities and institutions for the insane. By the 1840s, police matrons were a common feature in most big city police departments. While not considered police officers, the appointments were significant because they constitute the first official recognition of the idea that women were necessary for the proper handling of female and juvenile offenders when they were held in custody. Matrons were the forerunners of policewomen. Even though they did not have police powers of arrest, police matrons helped pave the way for female police officers. In 1893 an appointment to provide for the widow of a police officer was made by the mayor of Chicago. The police payroll carried Mrs. Marie Owens as a "patrolman" for 30 years until her retirement on pension. She visited courts and assisted detectives in cases involving women and children. Such an appointment was common practice around the country when most police departments offered neither pensions nor death benefits. Regardless of their specific titles, women appointed to such positions often acted as police matrons. On April 1, 1908, Lola Baldwin, 48, was sworn in as a "female detective to perform police service" for the city of Portland, Oregon.1 She appears to be the first woman hired by a U.S. municipality to carry out regular law enforcement duties. A few years earlier, in summer of 1905, Baldwin was hired by the Portland Travelers' Aid Society to organize an effort to keep juveniles and young women safe from "moral pitfalls" as they visited or worked at the Lewis and Clark Exposition (similar to a world's fair). Civic leaders felt that the large number of single lumbermen, miners, and laborers attracted by the exposition could create undesirable influences among Portland's women. To counteract this possibility, Baldwin was put in charge of a force of social workers and given temporary quasi-police powers for the duration of the exposition (June 1 to mid-October, 1905).2 Her work to prevent vice was so effective that Lola Baldwin won the support of the mayor, city council, and police chief to make her position with the police department a permanent one. In early 1908 she passed a specialized "female detective" civil service exam and then on April 1, 1908, was hired by the police department to serve as the "Superintendent of the Women's Auxiliary to the Police Department for the Protection of Girls."3 She then began her 14-year career as the nation's first municipally paid policewoman with police powers of arrest. It should be noted that Lola Baldwin, as well as her various municipal supporters, did not view her role as one that was the same as that of uniformed male police officers of the time. Her duties, like those of other early policewomen, emphasized crime prevention and social work rather than law enforcement. Baldwin never wore a uniform or carried a firearm, rarely flashed her badge, and seldom, if ever, made arrests. Her unit's office was not in the police station but in a local...
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