In the late winter of that year, four women were making practice rounds through the Baltimore jail, training to become the first female officers in the institution's men's wing. One was a housewife, another a former gym teacher. There were also a laid-off nurse and a Coppin State College student.

"One inmate said we are spreading sunshine through the institution," the 22-year-old college student, Vinita Chainey, told The Baltimore Sun at the time.

The officers-in-training told the newspaper they didn't want anyone to see them as "liberated women."

"We still want to be women and treated like ladies," said Mary Johnson, a mother of four who had once worked in a bank. "I never applied for this job thinking that I wanted to be equal to a man."

Richardson became a correctional officer in the late 1970s, when she was 22 and living in East Baltimore. She and her best friend got jobs the same day at the Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup.

She only planned to stay for while. But the job offered more money than she could find elsewhere, said Richardson, 56, who had graduated from college with a psychology degree.

When Bruce Flanigan, a major at the county detention center, started his career in 1979, he worked with only five women.

He was in his early 20s and noticed that many of the older male officers resented their female colleagues. They viewed them as intruders on male turf — and doubted they had the strength or skills to help if something went wrong.

"They looked down on the females working in corrections," Flanigan said.

Today, men and women "work as a team," he said. "It's a big difference from when I first started."

Richardson said women still have a long way to go in filling administrative positions in the corrections field. But in the decades since she started her first job, the biggest change has been in the attitudes of male colleagues.

She recalled an incident where she was on patrol at Brockbridge with a male partner. A fight broke out in the prison yard, and they were the first to respond.

"When it was over, he told me how surprised he was that I ran to the yard," she recalled.

The remark puzzled her — and has stuck with her ever since.

"It's my job," she told him.

Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell and reporters Kevin Rector and Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

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