“I had stopped for a moment to look at a poster in front of a moving picture place,” said Alice Stebbins Wells, “when a man came up and ingratiatingly asked me if I did not want to see the show, offering to take me. Now, I can readily imagine that if I had been a poor young girl without a nickel, and worse yet, with the knowledge that I never would have a nickel to spare for such a treat, I might have accepted the man’s offer and so possibly have taken the first step to ruin.” Miss Wells was made of sterner stuff; she had to be, for not only was she the first policewoman in Los Angeles, she was the first policewoman in the country.
Women had worked for the LAPD before; mostly as “matrons” in penal institutions where they supervised female prisoners or wards of the state, but in 1910, when the Los Angeles City Council gave Miss Wells her badge and provided her with arrest powers, it marked a departure from decades of tradition. Most of Los Angeles did not note the change that was afoot; according to the Los Angeles Almanac, LAPD officers enjoyed the privilege of free trolley rides to and from work; when Miss Wells displayed her badge, the conductor accused her of pilfering her husband’s badge to cadge a free trip. The Department remedied this problem by presenting her with a special badge, “Policewoman’s Badge Number One.”
Throughout the country, cities followed Los Angeles’ example, and by 1915 there were enough policewomen for Wells to organize the International Policewomen’s Association. These women’s experience varied, Philadelphia’s policewomen were stationed in the City’s train station; fluent in six languages they acted more like social guardians than Cagney and Lacey; steering young and confused immigrant women away from vice ridden hotels and into safe boardinghouses. Back in Los Angeles, Wells remained busy stamping out vice; in particular she frequented dance halls to make sure they didn’t operate as brothels.
New York City hired Miss Ruth Crawford as its first policewoman. A wealthy heiress and Vassar graduate, joined the NYPD briefly after earning her Master’s in Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis. Although she soon left to join the YWCA, hundreds of women would follow her footsteps and join New York’s finest.
Chicago decided to go one better and hired an entire police contingent composed of females. History preserves their names, Miss Alice Clements, Miss Lulu Parks, Miss Margaret F. Butler, Mrs. Madge Wilson, Mrs. F. Woodman-Willsey, Miss Clara Olsen, Mrs. Anna Louckes, and Miss Anna Neukom. Assigned to the Detective Bureau, Clements and Parks were welcomed by their Captain “They are made of the right material, “he said, “and I believe this new move is a good thing for the department. Chicago should have twenty-five more policewomen.”
Lulu Parks was dispatched to New York City to arrange the capture and extradition of a former waitress who’d stolen $250 from her employer; dressed to the nines in a dark blue tailormade walking suit, gray coat and black velvet hat, trimmed with a black plume, and topped with a green feather, she caught her quarry unawares, and the thief was on her way back to Chicago. Parks admitted she’d carried two revolvers on the job; but refused to disclose where on her person she’d concealed them.
The others were assigned to smash the mashers, and they strolled in plainclothes up and down Wabash Avenue.
“So we started out first to clear the city of mashers,” said one. “I will not forget my first arrest of one of this species. It was my second day on the force and I was a bit timid, having made no arrest so far. I passed this youth – a big, overgrown boy. He bowed, and called me an endearing name and tried to grab my arm. My face reddened and my anger almost overpowered me.
‘You’re under arrest.’ I shouted at him as I displayed my star.
‘You wouldn’t arrest me, would you cutie?’ He said as he tried to wrench away. Angered by this latest insult I drew my revolver and hissed:
‘You either go to the station or to the Cook County Hospital.’ He subsided, and I took him to the box and locked him up. Next day he was fined $10.”
British Suffragette Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst (center) with policewomen (from left to right) Anna E. Neukon, Clara Louckes, LuLu C. Parks, and Mrs. Alice Clement; in Chicago’s Hotel LaSalle. Wish LuLu was wearing her hat. From the Library of Congres