Women in Policing
Women began working in jails and prisons as early as the 1820s and as sheriffs' deputies and matrons as early as the 1880s. However, their official recognition generally is considered to be 1910 when Alice Stebbins Wells was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and became the first woman with the unique title of policewoman. Not only was the title different from men's titles, the job responsibilities were very different from men's duties and with few exceptions defined the roles of women in policing until the 1960s and 1970s when federal laws and court challenges by women brought the right to equal employment in policing.
Wells was part of the generation of the first women to attend college. She was part of a larger movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century of women into full-time employment outside the home, generally in fields where they sought to help other women, often those poorer and less educated than they were. Most of these policewomen had been social workers or were involved in religious activities. They were concerned with what they saw as increasing immorality, juvenile delinquency, and alcohol consumption among the lower classes.
By the 1920s and 1930s a number of cities with large African-American populations appointed a very small number of black policewomen specifically to work with women and girls in the African-American community. Although these policewomen were not all college graduates, much like their white colleagues they were often members of the upper strata of society, including a number who were wives of pastors or leaders in their community.
In municipal policing women's promotional opportunities were often severely limited until the 1950s and 1960s. During this time period, a few women brought lawsuits to ensure the right to take tests for the rank of sergeant. Even after winning these suits, many were forced, as in New York City, to sue a second time for the right to become lieutenants.
Small departments, if they had women at all, employed one or two, often combining the jobs of matron and policewoman. In the largest departments, quotas for women were capped at no more than 1% of total staff. Women worked primarily in women's bureaus, often located away from a stationhouse and often sharing facilities with juvenile justice or corrections staffs.
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