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Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Finding clues for the first woman in law enforcement

On Sept. 6, 1973, the Carroll Record reported that, "The Maryland State Police will shortly have a new look — as a pilot program utilizing a limited number of females trained as Troopers gets underway. These women will have full police powers and will be assigned in specialized areas of law enforcement throughout the state."

According to the 1973 newspaper article, "Applicants for the Trooper Specialist position must have a minimum height of 5-foot, 6-inches without shoes, a minimum weight of 120 pounds in proportion to their height…"

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According to the Maryland State Police Office of Media Communications, the agency's historical records reflect that the first six women appointed to the Maryland State Police in June 1974 were: Susan V. Topper, Donna L. Whiting, Margaret L. Scott (Edge), Jane Diane Kulp, Virginia F. Kincaid (Lewis) and Jane E. Denby.

While there are varying claims and counter-claims, many historians are in agreement that the first female police officer in the U.S. joined the force in Chicago.

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According to a Sept. 1, 2010 article in the Chicago Tribune by Colleen Mastony, "Rick Barrett, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent and amateur historian, says he has found definitive evidence that a woman named Marie Owens was not only the first policewoman in Chicago but also the first known female officer in the United States…

"Debate has long swirled around the identity of the nation's first female cop. Los Angeles claimed the distinction of hiring the first, saying a woman joined their department in 1910. Yet Portland, Ore., points to its own female officer, hired in 1908."

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Indeed, various media accounts indicate that in 1908, Lola Baldwin joined the Portland police department and Fanny Bixby became a police officer in Long Beach Calif. On Sept.12, 1910, Alice Stebbins Wells joined the Los Angeles Police Department.

In Chicago, "Owens landed a job in 1889 with the city health department, working as one of five female factory inspectors who enforced child-labor and compulsory education laws," wrote Mastony.

"At the time, public outrage was growing over sweatshop conditions in factories across the city. But the inspectors' powers were limited; they couldn't enter buildings without a warrant. As pressure mounted on public officials to step up enforcement of child labor laws, Owens was transferred to the Police Department in 1891. She was given powers of arrest, the title of detective sergeant and a police star."

The Los Angeles Daily News ran a story by Adam Eisenberg on Sept. 10, 2010, that, "Los Angeles led the nation by appointing the first policewoman in America. Her name was Alice Stebbins Wells...

"Wells also traveled the nation promoting the policewoman cause. Her efforts were successful, and by 1915 policewomen were serving on the police departments of at least 25 U.S. cities including San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Denver and Chicago…."

According to Eisenberg, "By the 1950s, policewomen were highly trained professionals who frequently worked undercover on dangerous assignments, but they were required to wear uniform skirts, high heels, white gloves and to carry their guns in specially designed handbags. As a result, the public perceived them as little more than 'social workers with guns and badges' …

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"All of this changed in the 1960s after policewomen in New York City sued for the right to test for sergeant alongside the men. They won, and by the end of the decade departments across America desegregated and women finally earned the right to move up the chain of command…."


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