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Countdown to armistice (4) - the original women police

November 7, 2018

Everyone will know that Birmingham and Walsall recruited their first women police during World War I (1917 and 1918 respectively) and if you don't know this already, please visit WMPeelers.com/shop to pick up a copy of A Fair Cop which will tell you all about them and their amazing stories.

 

But who were the forerunners to the first women police of the West Midlands? These were the Voluntary Women Patrols, organised by the National Council of Women (formerly known as the National Union of Women Workers) who organised a Women's Patrol Committee. The patrols consisted mainly of affluent women who patrolled for a few hours a week, with no uniform except an armlet provided by the local police. The patrols were set up in November in 1914 in Birmingham and Mrs Boutchard met with Chief Constable Charles Haughton Rafter to discuss where the women were most needed. It was identified that there were many vulnerable young women who, with the absence of any organised activities or events, frequented places where soldiers were staying or spent all their money on alcohol.

 

By December 1914, 20 patrols had been organised and in March 1915 an example was reported of a police officer asking the patrols to speak to a young woman as the officer felt it might be more effective than an official police warning ask her to move on. This gave the Committee the confidence to push the Watch Committee for permanent paid women police. Initially, this request was turned down. After much campaigning by various women's groups and committees, the Watch Committee agreed to recruit two women police and these women were chosen from the only operational women employed by the Birmingham Police - the Lock-up Matrons.

 

And so Evelyn Miles and Rebecca Lipscombe made history by becoming the first two female officers in Birmingham and the West Midlands at the end of April 1917, closely followed in 1918 by Katherine Tearle and Miss Williams in Walsall.

 

 Top row from left to right: Evelyn Miles, Rebecca Lipscombe, believed to be Malenda Shawe, believed to be Mary Dwelly.

Bottom row from left to right: Katherine Tearle, Miss Williams, Lizzie May Peers and Lucy Charlton

 

The early work of the women police was largely what we would deem social work today. They spent a lot of time patrolling the streets and visiting public places regularly finding young women wandering the streets trying to meet soldiers. They dealt with 91 cases in the first year with the vast majority being taken to
local shelters or for treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. This highlighted that there was significant need for accommodation for women to help them get back on their feet and secure employment and to this end the first police run hostel for women was opened in June 1918 in Dale End.

 

The final recruits for Birmingham came in October 1917 (Malenda Shawe and Mary Dwelly), and September 1918 (Lizzie May Peers and Lucy Charlton). By 1919 the unit had reached a total of nine officers - three left shortly afterwards and the remaining six officers remained the core of the women police throughout the 1920s until further officers were recruited in 1931 and the original women started to retire.

 

More information is available about the early women police across the West Midlands in A Fair Cop, available for £9.99 from WMPeelers.com/shop with all proceeds going to Coventry Haven, Black Country Women's Aid and Anawim in Birmingham.

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