Women on the Force

December 19th, 2012by Naomi BlumbergFiled under: Exhibitions, Stories

In 1913, Chicago’s Police Department welcomed its first cohort of female officers. Ten in all, they were a dynamic and pioneering group. Mayor Carter Harrison was a strong advocate for bringing women onto the force, taking the stance, which was widely held, that only women police officers were capable of taming the delinquent children of Chicago. Dealing with children was “women’s work,” and the sensitivity they would bring to managing child offenders would be of great service to society. Policewomen would uphold the moral character of the city.

DN-0062443Policewomen Agnes Walsh (from left), Anna Loucks, Theresa Johnson, Anna Sheridan, Lulu Burt, Mabel Rockwell, and Miss Clara B. Olsen.

The starting salary of a policewoman in 1913 was $75 a month, and each officer was assigned an area to patrol—often a beach, park, bus terminal, railroad station, or dancehall. Their duties included protecting girls from unsavory types who might lure them into danger and arresting girls for wearing questionable swimming costumes at the local beaches. Yes, a girl with a swimsuit whose neckline went a little too low could be arrested!

Leading up to their hire, suffragists debated what kind of women would be suitable for the job, what they would wear, and if these women would be armed when on duty. The right type of woman was described as being “husky” and having nerve, common sense, and ideals. Issues of dress involved gray versus blue suits; length of skirt (short enough, meaning showing the ankle, so a policewoman could run when necessary); type of hat (one suggestion was a gray sombrero); and the size and appearance of their star-shaped badge. Regarding weapons, some, including Louise DeKoven Bowen, believed that women already possessed the most effective weapon necessary to enforce the law: common sense. Others, like Minona Fitts Jones, felt they should be fully armed with one pistol—maybe two—but not clubs (Jones did not care for the look of the club). Although the cohort of women started out believing that “education . . . was more effective than force,” this view did not last long. Patrolling the streets of Chicago was (and still is) a hands-on, often dangerous job.

After the initial sorting out of who and what the Chicago policewoman would be, the new recruits did go out armed, wore some semblance of a uniform, and saw the range of their duties broaden over time. Today, approximately 25 percent of the Chicago Police Department is made up of women.

A selection of Chicago Police Department badges are now on display in the exhibition Chicago: Crossroads of America. Come take a look.

> Discover the history of the CPD

> Take a virtual tour of the Crossroads exhibition

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6 Responses to “Women on the Force”

  1. Bryan Says:

    I was wondering if you had a complete list of the names of those ladies. My great aunt, Kaye Houtman, was supposedly hired as one of the first Chicago female police officers. Any verification and/or other information would be great.


  2. Naomi Blumberg Says:

    Bryan, we do have the list of names of the first cohort of women officers. They are as follows: Emma Nukom, Mary Boyd, Alice Clement, Anna Loucks, Lulu Parks, Margaret Butler, Marjorie Wilson, Mrs. F. Woodman Willsey, Clara Olson, and Nora Lewis. I did see mention of Kaye Houtman in a newspaper article from the 1950s, so your aunt was indeed on the force, but not in the first group.

  3. Kayla Says:

    Hi, Im doing a history project on the police women in the force. Would you please by chance share with me or direct me on were to find some more research. I would really like to find out more about the first group of police women. Thankyou

  4. Naomi Blumberg Says:

    Kayla, I found most of my information in old Chicago newspaper articles. You can access those through Proquest at the library. I also found this timeline to be helpful:

    Good luck!

  5. Jim Flannigan Says:

    Kayla my grandmother was Lois Higgins Grote if I could help you with any research you are doing let me know most of the things we had were turned over to the archives.

  6. Beth Anderson Says:

    I had a great aunt Anna Sheridan and was wondering if this is her. My grandmother Francis Sheridan had several sisters and one was named Anna. Sheridan would be her maiden name. Please let me know.

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