Just before the beginning of the First World War, public opinion had begun to believe that bringing women into the police force could have a beneficial effect.
It was felt that they would be particularly useful for taking depositions of children and women, patrolling parks and railway stations, investigating cases of assault and answering questions in the street.
In 1914 Margaret Damar Dawson, a campaigner on women’s issues, founded the Women’s Police Service with Nina Boyle, a suffragette and journalist. Dawson was keen to use the opportunity offered by the Fist World War to introduce women into policing. The Women’s Police Service worked mainly with prostitutes and was supported by the Commissioner at the time Sir Edward Henry who issued the WPS members with identity cards and asked the regular police to assist them.
During the war the role of the WPS spread to the policing of munitions factories and then out to other towns. Grantham was the first town, in 1915, to officially swear in a woman police officer, Mrs Edith Smith.
However, the WPS’ links to the suffragette movement and their sometimes robust attitude when dealing with prostitutes, made them unpopular and Sir Edward Henry’s successor, Sir Nevil Macready, refused to work with them and preferred the Women’s Special Police Patrols headed by Mrs Stanley.
In 1918 Mrs Stanley was made Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police Patrols and 25 existing members of the special patrols were appointed, working directly under Scotland Yard. Limited powers of arrest were given to policewomen in 1923. Unfortunately records of the first recruits to the Metropolitan Police do not seem to have survived.
© Georgette 2008