Women in Law Enforcement: History, Accomplishments, and Demand
Demand for Women in Law Enforcement
Women Leaders in Law Enforcement
Congresswoman Val Demings
Pamela A. Smith
Women in Federal Law Enforcement
Resources: Federal Law Enforcement Careers
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Women in Law Enforcement”: Women interested in working with ICE can find career advice, explore a day in the life of a female officer, and learn about trailblazing women in law enforcement.
- National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, Jobs/Employment: This organization promotes the profession to women and supports women in their careers through various sources, including job listings.
- The Balance Careers, “Federal Government Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Careers”: This resource highlights law enforcement jobs in the federal government.
- WIFLE, Women in Federal Law Enforcement: This nonprofit organization focused on addressing the underrepresentation of women in federal law enforcement provides various resources.
History of Women in Law Enforcement
Key Accomplishments: History of Women in State and Local Law Enforcement
- 1845: The hiring of women as matrons in New York City jails marks the beginning of the history of women in U.S. law enforcement. They performed tasks related to social work, including searching female prisoners and caring for lost children. Over time, jail matrons’ roles evolved to include investigations.
- 1908: Lola Baldwin was sworn in as the first U.S. female police officer, in Portland, Oregon. In 1905, Baldwin helped protect vulnerable young women attending the large Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. After she had served in various roles involving investigations in support of law enforcement, the city council voted in favor of women serving in law enforcement in 1908.
- 1910: Alice Stebbins Wells was sworn in as the first female LAPD officer. Wells’ career started in social work. After petitioning the mayor’s office and the City Council to adopt an ordinance allowing women to serve as officers, Wells was appointed one of the first female policewoman with the power to arrest criminals. Wells worked in law enforcement for 30 years.
- 1912: Isabella Goodwin was New York City’s first female detective. Goodwin began her career as a jail matron, and earned her detective shield after going undercover to expose a bank robber.
- 1916: Georgia Ann Robinson was sworn in as the LAPD’s first black female police officer, and may also have been the first Black female law enforcement officer in the U.S. Robinson investigated juvenile and homicide cases and set up a women’s shelter. Her law enforcement career ended after she was blinded by an inmate, but she continued her work with the shelter and helped fight school segregation in the Los Angeles school system.
- 1946: Josephine Serrano Collier was sworn in as the first Latina LAPD officer. She was one of nine women hired out of 200 female applicants. Prior to her role in law enforcement, she worked for Lockheed Corporation supporting the war effort. She served in the LAPD for 14 years before a back injury forced her to retire.
- 1985: Penny Harrington became the first female police chief of a major city, in Portland, Oregon. Harrington was a police pioneer who helped set the stage for future female leaders in law enforcement. As chief, she created promotion opportunities for women.
- 1994: Beverly J. Harvard became the first African American female police chief of a major city, in Atlanta. Harvard was appointed chief of police in 1994, just two years after becoming deputy. She guided the police force during the 1996 Olympics, when a bomb exploded at Centennial Olympic Park, killing two.
- 2004: Heather Fong became the first female Asian American chief of police of a major city, in San Francisco. Fong went on to work for the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration.
Moments in History That Expanded Opportunities for Women
Important Dates in Women’s History in Federal Law Enforcement
- 1887: Phoebe Couzins was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to serve as the first female U.S. marshal, in an interim role.
- 1913: Hallie M. Daggett became the first female field officer in the U.S. Forest Service. Before her appointment, women had been employed at the agency since 1905, but solely in field work.
- 1921: Mabel Walker Willebrandt was appointed by President Warren G. Harding to the role of assistant attorney general. She oversaw prohibition enforcement and prison system reform.
- 1925: Mary Belle Harris became the first female superintendent of the Federal Industrial Institution for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, the first federal correctional institution for women in the U.S.
- 1941: Beatrice Ball became the first woman to serve as a U.S. Park Police officer after 10 years with the Washington, D.C., police force.
- 1970: Phyllis Shantz became the first female officer sworn into the Executive Protective Service. Shantz was appointed a year after President Nixon signed Executive Order 11478.
- 1971: Laurie Anderson, Sue Baker, Kathryn Clark, Holly Hufschmidt, and Phyllis Shantz were sworn in as the first female special agents in the U.S. Secret Service.
- 1972: Joanne Pierce Misko and Susan Roley Malone became the first female special agents in the modern FBI.
- 1976: Sylvia Elizabeth Mathis became the first female black FBI agent. She worked on cases including the 1978 massacre in Jonestown, Guyana.
- 1993: Janet Reno became the first female U.S. attorney general. She was sworn in by President Clinton on March 12, 1993.
- 2002: Connie Patrick became the first female director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers.
- 2002: Teresa Chambers became the first woman to be appointed to the role of chief of the U.S. Park Police.
- 2003: Karen Tandy became the first woman to lead one of the major federal law enforcement agencies, serving as administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
- 2010: Stacia Hylton was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the first female director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
- 2013: Julia A. Pierson became the first female head of the United States Secret Service.
- 2018: Carla Provost became the first female chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, the law enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
- 2018: Vicki Christiansen became chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, overseeing more than 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands.
- 2021: Pamela A. Smith became the first black woman to serve as U.S. Park Police chief.
Percentage of Women in Law Enforcement
Resources: Women in Law Enforcement Statistics and Data
- 50×50 Movement, Data Brief: Toward Gender Parity in Police Forces: Globally, only 15.4% of police force members are women, according to this resource, which provides various data on the topic of women in law enforcement.
- National Institute of Justice, “Women in Policing: Breaking Barriers and Blazing a Path”: This report presents research about the current state of women in policing, providing data on recruitment, retention, and promotions.
- The Marshall Project, Female Police Chiefs: This curated collection of links presents stories about female police chiefs.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Program Evaluation: Recruitment & Hiring Gender Disparities in Public Safety Occupations”: In this report, the EEOC provides data, such as female participation in public safety occupations, to help eliminate gender disparities.