Women in Policing (page 3)
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.
Opportunities in state policing were virtually nonexistent. With the exception of the Connecticut and Massachusetts state police, each of which employed a handful of policewomen, no women were employed in state policing until the early 1970s.
Women's roles in municipal policing and sheriff's offices began to change officially in 1968. It was not until the mid-1970s, though, that women began to be hired according to the same standards applied to men (previously, standards have been higher, including in many cases a college degree or social work experience; height, weight, and physical agility standards were also quite different) and to receive academy training along with their male colleagues. The impetus for the change was passage in 1972 of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which extended to police agencies earlier prohibitions against employment discrimination on the basis of sex.
An additional push for legal equality was passage in 1973 of the Crime Control Act, which specified that agencies guilty of discrimination would not receive federal funds. With the possible loss of federal money, departments began to take seriously the requirement to hire women. By the end of the decade the titles of policewoman and policeman (or patrolman) were replaced in most agencies by the unisex title of police officer.
Prior to 1971, with the exception of the Marshals Service, which has employed women throughout its history, virtually no women had worked as special agents. Change came slowly; in 1969, President Richard M. Nixon issued Executive Order 11478, which prohibited discrimination in federal employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or age. It followed on the heels of Executive Order 11375, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, which had added sex to the existing prohibited forms of discrimination (race, color, religion, and national origin). But earlier regulations that barred women from jobs that required carrying a firearm kept them from special agent positions until 1971, when the Secret Service and the Postal Inspection Service became the first agencies to swear in women. The FBI and many other agencies followed in 1973.
Although women continue to be employed in all branches of law enforcement in considerably smaller numbers and percentages than men, legal equality has been achieved.
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