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Women are well-respected and integral members of the Law Enforcement community.

The story of women in Law Enforcement is a fascinating one, and one that is evolving to this day. In many ways it parallels the tale of women in society throughout history. 

Here, we will explore the history of women in Law Enforcement, by looking at the many female trailblazers who set the stage for those that followed, as well as look at key events that helped shape how women are positioned in Law Enforcement today.

This is an interesting story showing how women can overcome any barriers and preconceptions they may face - ultimately exceeding all expectations placed upon them, and becoming invaluable members of any organization they choose to become a part of. 


Women served in Law Enforcement since almost the beginning. The first police departments in America were established in the 1800's, and women entered the criminal justice system in 1845. They were employed primarily as ‘prison matrons’ - ensuring the well-being of women, children, and girls in prison


The Chicago Police Department enrolled Marie Owens as the first female “Patrolman”. However, her duties did not actually include patrol assignments, but rather, Owens focused on the social reform aspects of Law Enforcement - working primarily with women and children


The new millennium ushered in the first sworn female officer — Lola Baldwin — in Portland, Oregon. This was shortly followed by Fanny Bixby, who was also sworn in by the city of Long Beach, California. Both women were endowed with the power to conduct arrests.


The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) went a step further in 1910, by swearing in Alice Wells as the country’s first “Policewoman”. She was assigned 'Badge Number 1'!


The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department swore in Margaret Adams as the nations’ first female “Sheriff” - Adams’ duties primarily involved evidence processing


Alice Wells (who we previously saw was sworn in as the country's first 'Policewoman' in 1910), founded the ‘International Association of Policewomen’ five years later in 1915, which worked to advocate for more opportunities for women in policing. It was later renamed the ‘International Association of Women Police (IAWP)’ in 1956


Georgia Ann Robinson was appointed to the LAPD - making her America’s first known African-American Policewoman


Frances Glessner Lee was appointed ‘Captain’ in the New Hampshire State Police. She was the first female police Captain in the United States


Josephine Serrano joined the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) - becoming the first known Latina Policewoman in the United States


Prior to the 1960’s, women’s roles were largely clerical and supportive in nature - working primarily as dispatchers, secretaries and social workers. But this began to change - with the IAWP (International Association of Women Police) pushing for equal treatment and greater opportunities for women in Law Enforcement


In 1964, The Civil Rights Act was passed, making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin. However, while Title VII mentioned Women’s equality, it glaringly excluded Educational institutions, and the Local/State/Federal Government - meaning that these organizations could continue to discriminate against women at all levels


The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department assigned Car 47 to the nation’s first female Patrol Officers - Elizabeth Robinson and Betty Blankenship


The year 1972 was a major breakthrough for women’s rights. Congress passed the Equal Employment Act 1972, prohibiting gender discrimination, including at educational institutions and all government organizations. This effectively made it illegal to discriminate based on gender at many important jobs - including those in Law Enforcement!

Tanya Padgett, Martha Parks, and Tommie Stewart were sworn in as ‘Full Police Officers’ in Ann Arbor, Michigan - the first city to take this step following (you guessed it...) the implementation of the 1972 Equal Employment Act

In July of 1972, JoAnne Misko and Susan Malone became the first fully-sworn female FBI agents in the United States


Penny Harrington became the first female Police ‘Chief’ of a major city - Portland, Oregon


Beverly Harvard became the first African-American female Police ‘Chief’ - in the city of Atlanta, Georgia


The expanding role of women in police work in the 1990's resulted in the formation of several Law Enforcement Associations devoted to women. These included:
a. The National Center for Women and Policing - in 1995
b. The National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives - in 1995
c. Women in Federal Law Enforcement - in 1999

21st Century - We're still writing our history:

The story of women in Law Enforcement continues to evolve. Today, there are over 123,000 female police officers, compared to just 27,000 in 1987.

Recent studies have shown that women in Law Enforcement are:

  • More effective at responding to violence against women
  • Less likely to show aggression and draw their weapons
  • More likely to defuse a situation without using force

Female officers’ abilities often complement those of their male counterparts, resulting in a tactical as well as an investigative advantage when male-female teams are deployed. History and studies have shown that when the advantages brought by women in Law Enforcement are leveraged, this not only greatly benefits the profession, but those whom the law has endeavored to serve and protect.

There are many stories of women who helped shape our profession — some are famous, others infamous, and many are silent heroes who despite not having been mentioned in this article, have nonetheless played a pivotal role in shaping Law Enforcement as it is today.

We pay homage to all the amazing female pioneers whose contributions have served as a stepping stone and as an inspiration for more women to take up positions in Law Enforcement. These include not only the women mentioned in this article, but the countless number of female Officers who have already served, and who are currently serving with honor and distinction. We honor you and thank you for your service!

Did you find this article/infographic interesting and informative? Let us know more about any of your thoughts regarding the history of women in Law Enforcement. We would love to hear from you in the comments section below.



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