July 1

Sergeant No. 97 – Was she the first female officer?

Historical facts are fun! Who was the first man to walk

on the moon? What was FDR’s dogs name? But because history is recorded in government documents, news stories, and personal accounts, some historical questions are difficult to answer with certainty. Such is the case of the question, who was the first female police officer in the U.S.

If you search the internet with that question, you will find that it was Alice Stebbins Wells who became a Los Angeles police woman in 1910. No Wait!! It was Lois Baldwin in Portland, Oregon in 1908. Or could it have been Marie Owens with the Chicago Police Department in 1891. All three have interesting stories, but I’m going with Sergeant Owens, who was identified in a newspaper article during her service as “Sergeant No. 97, a handsome, gentle-voiced, dark-eyed woman, who is said to be the only woman police sergeant in the world”.
Owens primary duties, for at least part of the 32 years she served on the force, was to enforce child labor laws. Edward M. Burke, an amateur historian and former DEA agent found an Op Ed article that Owens wrote in the Chicago Tribune in 1901 about those efforts.
“When the work first began, a woman wearing a police sergeant’s star was a novelty. Manufacturers, in some cases, were not inclined to admit me to their work shops. But, armed with the strong arm of the law and the will to do good, I soon found that, in most cases, the merchants met me half-way and rendered me great assistance,” he quoted Owens as writing.
Barrett also quoted one of Owens’ supervisors, Capt. O’Brien, as saying, “Give me men like she is a woman and we will have the model detective bureau of the whole world.”

Marie Owens, the child of Irish immigrants who was widowed with five children before becoming a police officer, retired in 1923 at half her salary which was $83.00 a month. She died only 4 years later.

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Posted July 1, 2013 by Larry Watts in category "Other