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Women have always had to fight for equality in the workplace and one of the hardest fights has been in the field of law enforcement- whether in policing or corrections. Women have played a part in law enforcement since the 1840’s when – at the insistence of the American Female Reform Society-matrons were hired to oversee the women prisoners. From these humble beginnings the policewoman of today has emerged- not unlike her fictional sisters, Jane Tennison (Prime Suspect) and Cordelia Gray (Unsuitable Job for a Woman).

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She is capable and tough, yet still lends the lighter touch to the job of policing. She can be found in the slums of Ireland and the deserts of Arabia. She does jobs from directing traffic to analyzing DNA, to diffusing dangerous situations as a SWAT member, to handling the tragic interviews involved with child molestation. Women all over the world are finding fulfillment as protecting and service their fellow citizens. This is just a part of their story. Police Women Part One: The Women who started it all


In 1893, Mary Owens was given the title of policeman by the Chicago Police Department. At that time, it was a common practice to hire widows of officers to work in the department- since there were no death benefits this was a way of compensating them. She worked for the department thirty years, assisting in cases that involved women and children. In 1905, the first woman given full rights as a policeman was Lola Baldwin , who was commissioned by the Portland Oregon Police Department. In 1908 she was made head of a new department named the Department for Protection of Young Girls and Women.

The citizens of Portland were concerned that young women unfortunate enough to be arrested were not being treated properly. The Department also handled juveniles of both sexes. Los Angeles hired Alice Stebbin Wells in 1910, giving her the title of policewoman (the first use of this term). While both Baldwin and she were sworn as officers, their jobs were really more like that of a social worker- and nothing like the policemen on the regular beats. In 1915, the International Association of Policewomen was formed in hopes to support those in police positions as well as draw an interest to the career of police work.

While they were limited in their capacity, many of these first policewomen saved a lot of women and girls from the streets and helped them achieve better self-esteem and better lives. One of the best examples of this positive work is the City Mothers program that the City of Los Angles began in 1914. This program did not deal with girls already in the system, but rather had a prophylactic policy of bringing both parents and their “wayward” girls for medical exams and counseling- not unlike the public health services of today.

This agency was spearheaded by Aletha Gilbert, a long-time figure in the LAPD and daughter of one of the first police matrons. She saw this as a way to help slow down the rampant spread of venereal disease in the city and to prevent young women from gaining a record of sexual delinquency with the courts. At this time period, sexual delinquency primarily meant premarital heterosexual activity, whether or not money was exchange. While this may seem absurd now, at that time records indicate that over sixty three percent of girls that appeared before the court system were there on this charge, oftentimes at the hands of their families.

During the 1920’s, Gilbert led teams of women that helped investigate vice conditions. White slavery was common at that time, and Chief of Police Sebastian wanted to make a strong stance against it: he felt that “ women are the force we need to stop this. ” While the City Council was at odds about this at first, they finally gave their consent. Gilbert and Sebastian led more successful programs including getting clubwomen involved in helping with the wayward girls and other such reforms.

This was one of the most progressive programs in the nation and did not reflect many of the prejudices common at that time. Unfortunately, during this time period most women were looked at as temporary employees at best as they were expected to marry and raise families. Police departments wanted permanent employees, and didn’t want the nuisance of having to constantly rehire. When the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s, the hiring of women into positions traditionally male, was seen as taking food from a family’s mouth.

The role of the police was also changing, as the FBI was formed in the mid 30’s and police went from being “guardians of society” to “combatants of crime. ” The role of mother and nurturer did not fit this image. World War II brought women back into the police station, but mostly in support roles such as clerical workers or dispatchers. The women who were officers, stayed in the traditional female officer roles of helping young women and children. The male officers still patrolled the streets and worked criminal cases.

Part Two: Baby Booms and Flower Children The 1950’s brought a renewed interest to police work as a career path for women. The number of police women doubled by mid-decade and the re-establishment of the International Society of Women Police occurred. However, no women were on patrols and the majority were clerical workers or no more than glorified social workers. By the early 1960’s, women officers were no longer satisfied to stay in the traditional positions and began pushing to do more of the same jobs the male officers were doing.

The standard at this time was that in order to be promoted you must have patrol experience and in a perfect Catch 22 situation- women were not allowed to patrol – thus they couldn’t be promoted. Many other such “catches” were created in departments not only to keep women from becoming full officers, but also to slow the increase of African American officers. The demand for equal rights finally paid off when two policewomen were put on patrol duties in Indianapolis in 1968. Part Three: ERA and Beyond

In 1972, President Nixon struck a blow for the equality of women in the police force by signing an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibited any public agencies (of which police forces are one) from discriminating against women in hiring, recruiting, promoting or working conditions. This opened the door for advancement in the departments and gave women the chance they had been fighting for so long. By the 1980’s women on the force had doubled their number and higher racking women officers became more commonplace.

1985 saw Penny Harrington named the Police Chief of Seattle Washington, and in 1994 Beverly J. Harvard became Police Chief of Atlanta Georgia- a double victory as she was African American as well. As of 2000, women compose 13 percent of America’s police force and the numbers continue to grow both in local and state policing departments as well as federal. Female Correctional Officers Part One: Humble Beginnings In 1793, Mary Reed Became the administrator of the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia, and throughout her time there was known for her humane treatment of both male and female inmates.

In 1822 some of the first jail matrons were hired and in 1832 the first women defined as correctional officers were seen. Interestingly, the official definition of a prison matron was “a virtuous, duteous woman who would nurture and mother the women inmates. ” (Price 1996) In the years of 1860 to 1900, reform groups led by women and inspired by the work of Elizabeth Fry in England, helped change the face of corrections. These reformers wanted to change society’s image of women inmates from “fallen women” to the more realistic roles of the economically disadvantaged and exploited.

(Price 1996) The women insisted on separate facilities for female prisoners, facilities run by women that would have a more homelike atmosphere where the inmates would be taught useful skills. They also defined a juvenile justice system particularly aimed at lower and middle class girls to prevent future problems. Women steadily became a dominant force in charitable work and corrections. (Price 1996) By the turn of the century, most large cities had separate prisons for women and women were running them. This led to women also being considered for some policing duties.

While the call for prison reform waned, between the 1900 and 1920’s the women already doing work in prisons tried to gain more training and diversify their work. Unfortunately the stigmas of woman’s work in prison had been set- and they would take decades to overcome. Part Two: Formative years Between the 1930’s and the 1970’s women held a variety of jobs in correctional centers such as administrators, clerical staff, security officers and counselors for both women and juvenile inmates. In men’s prisons women served in some voluntary clerical or administrative positions, but for the most part they had no contact with male inmates.

During this time, pay was low and hours were long, and while prejudice against women was rampant, many women gained recognition for their work with prisoners. Two women of note were Edna Mahan, the superintendent for the New Jersey State Reformatory for Women and Grace Oliver Peck who chaired the Oregon Institutions Committee. Both were awarded for their achievements in reforming the systems in which she worked. Part Three: New Paths The political and social movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s brought about new openings in the field of corrections.

Activists helped expose the lack of funding to women’s prisons by pointing out the retraining classes were far below the quality of the men’s as well as the facilities were not as modern. (Price 1996) The Equal Rights amendments and other such liberating legislation also opened new doors for women in corrections. The Supreme Court also ruled that height and weight were not legitimate reasons for denying employment and another court threw out the No-Contact rule that stated that women could not be in constant contact with male prisoners.

While these rulings were critical to change in women’s positions in correctional facilities, and the undercurrent of prison reform helped also. Rehabilitation became a part of the justice system in the 1930’s, but from the beginning it was seen as ineffective. As the years went on advocates and the press both criticized the system for many reasons, one of the main being that the promise of rehabilitation was just an excuse for long unjust sentences. By the early 1960’s, due to several major prison riots, the rehabilitation mandate had been dropped by most states.

These led to prison reform and to the diversification of correctional officers within the institutions. Today women make up fourteen percent of corrections officers in Federal prisons, and twenty three percent in State prisons. While there are still issues with inmate privacy when women work in men’s prisons, women are a valuable part of the correctional system. Women in Other Law Enforcement Agencies J. Edgar Hoover was a determined man and one thing he stood firm on was that no woman would be an agent in the FBI while he was director.

This held to be true, but less than three months after his death, two female agents were accepted into the Academy. While they were unique in their backgrounds- one was a former Marine, the other a former nun- they met the requirements any male would have been held to. These two women opened up a whole new world for women in law enforcement. Today eighteen percent of special agents are women and sixty six percent of support personnel are women- making them the majority. A profiler with the Behavioral Science unit is one of the most prestigious positions in the FBI.

Dayle Hinman was appointed to this position in the late 1970’s, and was trained by John Douglas- the profiler made famous in” Silence of the Lambs”. She worked with famous cases such as O. J. Simpson and Ted Bundy. Today she has a program on TruTV, in which she reviews some her toughest cases and the techniques used to bring the criminals to justice. That most masculine of entities, the Texas Rangers, finally gave way to legal and political pressure and swore in it’s first two lady Rangers in August of 1993. While there were some initial tensions and a well-publicized complaint, things have smoothed out.

The Rangers- while they may have an image set in legend- are an efficient and well organized group of officers that take pride in upholding the law and they welcome anyone among them who is willing to commit to this. Women have long worked in supporting roles in military operations, and while they weren’t combatants many served as nurses on the battlefields throughout the ages. However, it wasn’t until 1991, during the Gulf War that women were finally put into direct combat situations such as fighters and helicopter pilots.

This might be considered the ultimate law enforcement role, but it is no less great than what each policewoman, or correctional officer does each day. Park Rangers are also law enforcement- not only protecting citizens but also the land and the animals in their jurisdiction. The first woman ranger was hired to work in Yosemite National Park in California in 1918. That same year, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington hired a female entrance station ranger. During 1920s, female ranger-naturalists were employed at many parks including the Grand Canyon National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Yellowstone also had female entrance station rangers as well as ten other women rangers in the 1920s. Then, an almost complete ban on hiring women as field rangers in the National Park Service was implemented from the 1930s until the early 1960s. While there is no clear reason for this ban, some speculate it was to make jobs for men during the Depression and because some male rangers felt women made the job look effeminate. Today one third (1070) women are employed by the National Park Service as rangers.

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