The topic of women police appears in the Watch Committee minutes in Coventry in 1919. Due to the success of the Voluntary Women’s Patrols in the area, the secretary of the Coventry branch of the National Council of Women asked if the appointment of women police was being considered as ‘social workers in the city felt strongly that the presence of fully trained and qualified women police would be of great benefit to the wellbeing of the citizens’. The Watch Committee however, had no intention of considering any such thing.[i]
Once in 1924 and twice during 1934 the question of women police was again brought to the Watch Committee but they would not reverse their decision – despite the issuance of Home Office regulations on the conditions of employment and two Government Commissions recommending an increase in numbers of policewomen.
In 1935 the Watch Committee held a vote on a recommendation that women police would NOT be appointed with 23 to 19 voting in favour of them not being appointed. It would be another three years before Coventry would appoint its first female police officers.
Minutes from the committee in September 1937 show that they were starting to consider how women police could be usefully employed, particularly in dealing with women, girls and juvenile offenders. The success of women matrons in dealing with female prisoners is mentioned and a recommendation was passed for two women constables to be appointed in April 1938, subject to approval from the Secretary of State.[ii]
This was approved and on 25th April 1938 two female officers were recruited – E. Goodacre and K. Rowe. In their report to the Watch Committee in November 1939,[iii] they outline the work they have carried out so far. This starts with their training at the Birmingham Police Training School which included the standard training for male recruits, but also additional training with the Women Police and the lady enquiry officers based within the Birmingham CID. They learned how to take statements and received advice in how to interview women and girls regarding sexual offences.
After completion of their training in July 1938 they returned to Coventry and during their first year:
Interviewed 1,048 women and girls
Took 277 statements
Acted as escort to 53 women and girls
Made 32 arrests
The women highlight that much of their work related to parents asking them for advice, claiming their daughters were out of control and they didn’t know what to do. A lot of referrals were also made to the policewomen in relation to girls and women in need of help, lodgings and/or employment. This is very similar to the early years of the Birmingham City Women Police where their work consisted mainly of assisting with social welfare issues.
The women state that the escort duties they carried out included taking women and girls to various hostels, remand homes and prisons. Interestingly they include the Birmingham Police Women’s Hostel (which would have been Newton Street by this time) as one of the recipients of the women they assisted.
The report goes on to say:
‘The arrests have chiefly been for shop-lifting, although there have been a number of girls arrested and charged with being in need of care and protection, or in moral danger. For the first three months of our work here, there was some reluctance on the part of the public to bring matters to our notice. This has considerably altered. Whereas in the first three months of our work we interviewed 146 women and girls, in the last three months we have interviewed 252. In addition to our work in connection with women and girls, we have spent considerable lengthy periods in observation work on I.R.A. activities, indecency complaints, and on periodical complaints of thefts from the person.
During the first few months of our work, we spent considerable periods patrolling public parks and commons, and also visited the various Women’s lavatories, with a certain amount of success, but owing to the above observations which took up some of our time, we had to somewhat curtail these, but we hope in the near future to give more attention to this.’
By January 1957 Inspector Mrs Joanne Green is referenced as outlining the history of the women’s branch to the Watch Committee and in November 1957 she was showing visitors round the new force headquarters. Inspector Green initially spent two years with Kent County Constabulary from 1944 to 1946 and the following ten years with Rochdale Borough Police before joining Coventry City Police in June 1956. She may have been their first female inspector.
All of the above information comes from A Fair Cop - a book to commemorate 100 years of female officers in the West Midlands by Corinne Brazier and Steve Rice. This book is available to purchase from WMPeelers.com/shop for £9.99 - with all profit going to local women's charities, including Coventry Haven.
Chief Superintendent Mike O'Hara is now the Commander in charge of Coventry's Neighbourhood Policing Unit. The below picture shows him standing outside the building Inspector Green proudly showed visitors round. He said: “Coventry is a great, diverse and forward thinking City. The people of Coventry will push boundaries and always strive to make a difference. This is no doubt reflected in the fact that 80 years ago today Coventry City Police recruited it’s first female police officers. Whilst this may sound very bizarre now, policing has been (and actually continues to be) a very male dominated career. As policing becomes more complex and our communities more diverse, there is a real business and moral imperative to grow and develop as a service – we will always better serve our communities if we are representative and can understand their challenges. It is with this in mind that I will continue to strive to diversify and broaden recruitment and development and fundamentally improve our policing service. What a great landmark for Coventry and for policing!”
We would love to hear from any relatives of the early policewomen in Coventry, or those who served in later years as part of Coventry City Police. Please e-mail Museum@west-midlands.pnn.police.uk if you have any information or pictures to share.
[i] Forty Years of Women’s Work, 1917-1957, PA1269/7/1 – courtesy of the Herbert Art Gallery
[ii] Coventry City Watch Committee Minutes, Sept 28th 1937, p1361
[iii] Report of the Police Women to the Coventry City Watch Committee – 14th November 1939, courtesy of Herbert Art Gallery
Picture courtesy of the Coventry Telegraph