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The Early Years of American Law - America's First Policewoman

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Through the 1800s as professional police departments grew around the nation, women held few positions. Mostly women served as prison workers taking care of female inmates. Then in 1909 social worker Alice Stebbins Wells (1873–1957) pressed Los Angeles to establish a new city ordinance allowing female policewomen. With the support of some influential people, the ordinance was quickly adopted and on September 12, 1910, Wells became the nation's first female policewoman with arrest powers. She received a badge, a key to telephone call boxes, a rule book, and a first aid book. Wells even designed and made some of her own tailored uniforms.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) assigned Wells to patrol public recreation places where women and children frequented, such as skating rinks, dance halls, and movie theaters. By October 1912 two other women were added to the staff. By 1916 sixteen other U.S. cities and several foreign countries had hired policewomen. By 1937 the LAPD employed thirty-nine policewomen and their duties expanded to criminal investigations in addition to patrol.

Pressing onward, Wells helped organize the International Policewoman's Association in 1915 and founded the Women's Peace Officers Association of California in 1928. In 1918 Wells was instrumental in the first college class being offered on the work of policewomen for new and prospective recruits in the UCLA Criminology Department. Wells retired in November 1940 after thirty years on the police force.

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about 3 years ago

I agree with Mr. Wiederhold. The first official policewoman in America was Lola Greene Baldwin.

She was sworn on April 1, 1908 as a "female detective to perform police service" for Portland, Oregon. She was the first woman in America hired by a municipality to carry out regular law enforcement duties.

From 1908 to 1922 Detective Baldwin oversaw all the officers of the Portland Police Department Women’s Protective Division.

Give Lola her due, and correct your records!

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about 3 years ago

I agree with Mr. Wiederhold. The first official policewoman in America was Lola Greene Baldwin.

She was sworn on April 1, 1908 as a "female detective to perform police service" for Portland, Oregon. She was the first woman in America hired by a municipality to carry out regular law enforcement duties.

From 1908 to 1922 Detective Baldwin oversaw all the officers of the Portland Police Department Women’s Protective Division.

Give Lola her due, and correct your records!

Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago

It was Lola Greene Baldwin who was sworn in to the Portland (Oregon) Police by Mayor Harry Lane on April 1, 1908 with full peace officer authority. I Believe you'll find some disagreement of LAPD being the first to hire either Blacks or women. Texas had Black State Police after the Civil War.