The development of policing in our country closely mirrors the development of policing in England. It began as an informal “watch” program and progressed to the first formal American police force created in Boston in 1838.
It wasn’t until the late 19th Century that municipalities began employing women to assist in the handling of women and children in jails, prisons and mental health institutions. While they weren’t exactly what we consider a police officer by today’s standards, these “matrons” were instrumental in paving the way for women in law enforcement.
The City of Portland, Oregon appointed the first female sworn officer in 1908. Lola Baldwin was sworn in as a detective, and her career spanned 14 years with the department. While she is the first female police officer, she viewed her role in law enforcement more as crime prevention than law enforcement. Two years after Lola Baldwin’s appointment, Alice Stebbin Wells was sworn in to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) as part of their Juvenile Bureau. The LAPD felt that Wells could gain the confidence of female suspects. She was so successful that by 1912, LAPD had three policewomen and three matrons on their payroll.
With women like Lola Baldwin and Alice Stebbin Wells paving the way, women now make up 12 percent of all law enforcement. It is a growing role for women today. If you’re interested in law enforcement check out discoverpolicing.org or visit a local agency and ask about recruitment.