History of women in the British police force

PHYLLIS LOGIE By PHYLLIS LOGIE, 5th Mar 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1nh7kyw8/
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Although they are now seen as an essential part of the British police force, women were once regarded with suspicion, opposition and stiff resistence by the establishment.

The introduction of women in the British plolice force was not plain sailing

The United Kingdom police force was founded by Robert Peel in 1829 and back then the notion that women would be part of that exclusively male dominated establishment would have been regarded by both men and women with complete an utter horror.

Yet today, one hundred and sixty two years later 20% of the British police force consists of female officers. It was not an easy journey, they were met with stiff opposition, suspicion and resistance. However, they stood their ground, fought the establishment and the rest is history. Not entirely surprising as many of the first volunteers were members of the women’s suffragette movement who knew how to battle and win.

Women in the United Kingdom (UK) police force first began duties in 1914 as no more than volunteers, at the suggestion of the Headmistress Association. They were very concerned about the corrupting influence of young soldiers in the towns and villages around the beginning of the First World War. The volunteers’ main focus was principally to control the public behaviour of young women in the towns and inner city areas.

The suggestion was met with a wave of enthusiasm by women keen to be part the new organisation, initially making it possible for 2000 patrols to be established. Their assignments included the patrol of public parks, alleyways and local cinemas, in an attempt to curtail acts of immorality in public places.

Later, in 1915 Margaret Damer Dawson, than Secretary of the International Congress of Animal Protection Society also voiced concerns about the behaviour of young women and sought to do something about it. Joining forces with the Chief Commissioner of police, Sir Edward Henry and Nina Boyle, together they founded the Women Police Volunteers (WPV).

The idea at first failed to meet with the approval of the government; however the outbreak of the First World War forced their hand, when large numbers of the police force resigned to join the British Army, leaving a void which needed to be filled. Another deciding factor was that the women opted to provide a service on a volunteer basis and wanted no payment of their services.

Margaret Dawson became commander in chief of the volunteers and Mary Allen, then a leading member of the women's suffragette movement was appointed her deputy. Under Margaret’s stewardship the volunteers were renamed ‘The Women’s Police Services’ (WPS). At first their attention was mostly focused on London, with Grantham in Lincolnshire being the only other town to form a branch. This was perhaps because the young army recruits were stationed close by and had easy access to the town.

Members of the WPS were used by the Admiralty to work as undercover spies and also as security officers in the munitions factories, where their main function was to frisked the women as they left the factories. Their performance came under close scrutiny and eventually they began to gain recognition for their work, causing the Bishop of Grantham to say in a public speech in 1915 that a National Women’s Police force should be formulated.

A year later in the 1916 police Act, the WPS received the first official recognition for their work. In the Act they were given legal standing, which allowed them to become full employees of the state as police constables. The only proviso was that they were still not allowed to be sworn in, nor were they given the authority to make arrests.

By the time the War ended in October 1918 there were 357 WPS stationed in various towns and cities within the British Isles. The WPS mostly comprised of well educated middle class women, who were now looking to be rewarded for efforts made during the war. They wanted the status of becoming full and permanent members of the police force, with all the powers and privileges enjoyed by their male counterpart. However, Sir Nevil Macready, Chief Commissioner of police denied them that opportunity, saying that on the whole they were too well educated and the male officers would be irritated and intimidated by them.

He later went on to recruit a nucleus of 110 women from the women’s voluntary patrol. Until then however, the members of the WPS continued in the same vein until 1920 when their name was changed once more to the Women’s Auxiliary Services.

Their journey continued through the decades and although the road was long and hard, they steadily progressed, ably assisted by the Equal opportunity and sex discrimination laws. By the nineteen nineties, enormous progress had been made in the establishment’s attitude towards woman police officers, to the extent that in 1995, Pauline Clare was appointed Chief Constable for Lancashire, the first woman to gain such a high office within the British police force.

Today there are 36,000 women poilce officers working shoulder-to-shoulder with their male colleagues. They are generally considered to be an indispensable part of the day-today operations of the British police force. Women in the UK police force have given their lives in the line of duty on more than one occasion and no doubt will do so again in the future.



Bobbies, Constables, Law And Order, Peelers, Police, Robert Peel, Women

Meet the author

author avatar PHYLLIS LOGIE
I am a retired female who has been writing for the past five years. My favorite topics are history and biographies.

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author avatar Denise O
5th Mar 2011 (#)

What a very interesting and entertaining article on the history of women in the British police force. I learned some thing new today and I enjoyed learning it. Thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar c4collins
7th Mar 2011 (#)

Very enjoyable and filled with interesting facts...I admire the determination of these true pioneers...

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