It is a pleasure to welcome historical crime superstar Chris Nickson to the blog, with a special guest post. Chris gives us a bit of background on women in the police force.
I have loved Lottie, since we met her in Modern Crimes … Lottie was one of the first pioneer police women in Leeds. Now Lottie is back in a rather delicious new adventure, The Year of the Gun. It’s definitely going to be one of my favourite reads for 2017. If I had a TARDIS, I would go back to Leeds 1944 and say hello to Lottie.
What’s it all about?
1944: Twenty years after WPC Lottie Armstrong was dismissed from the Leeds police force, she’s back, now a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps.
Detective Chief Superintendent McMillan is now head of CID, trying to keep order with a depleted force as many of the male officers have enlisted. This hasn’t stopped the criminals, however, and as the Second World War rages around them, can they stop a blackout killer with a taste for murder?
Women in the Police
Being a copper has never been an easy job, but for women the road to full acceptance has been especially hard, often sidelined and badly treated for decades by their male colleagues (Life on Mars was a fairly accurate portrayal of the 1970s). Things were even worse when WPCs first moved on to the beat.
During World War I, there was a Voluntary Women’s Patrol in Leeds. Begun in December 1914, it first covered the areas around Headingley football ground, Chapeltown Road, and Woodhouse Moor, and soon extended to Briggate and the market. The idea, according to a 1916 report by the Chief Constable, was “to define and assist in promoting a higher moral code among girls, and so to guide and encourage them that they will have every hope of becoming self-respecting citizens.”
Did it work? He seemed to believe so, as only six per cent of criminals appearing in court the year before had been young females.
As the war progressed, patrols began in other cities. In September 1918, Mrs. Florence Parrish, already the chief patrol officer in Leeds, was named as Women’s Patrol Leader. She was called a policewoman, but was sadly lacking in any real power. Why? Because she couldn’t be sworn in, as women weren’t ‘proper persons’ under the legal definition – the same reason they couldn’t vote or serve on juries.
She remained on the force after peace arrived and another policewoman, Miss Annie Carnegie Brown, joined her in April 1921.
Later that year, though, Mrs. Parrish resigned. Miss Brown did the same thing the following April. Why? The Leeds Police 1836-1974 doesn’t give a reason. But it might not be too hard to guess.
At that point, Leeds decided to end its experiment with policewomen. It was only for a short time, however. Early in 1923, Mrs. Florence G. Strickland became a WPC in Leeds. Her duties were still very limited: she was allowed to take statements about offences against women and girls, and she could deal with missing or destitute women, girls, and children. That was it. No powers of arrest.
She wasn’t a proper copper. That would have to wait – at least in Leeds. In Grantham, a member of the Women’s Police Service, Mrs. Edie Smith, became the first policewoman in Britain to have powers of arrest in 1915. Again, it was a voluntary position, and she only stayed for two years (she also worked seven days a week as matron of a nursing home).
Things did improve, albeit slowly and not so much in Leeds. In 1930, though, Dorothy Peto became a Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police in London. She was Staff Officer in charge of the Women’s Section, and two years later took charge of the Women’s Section until she retired in 1946. It’s worth noting that by the time she left, she had command of about 200 women, which was half the total number of policewomen in Britain.
The young Lottie Armstrong of Modern Crimes who walked a beat during 1924 in Leeds was a pioneer. So was the older Lottie of The Year of the Gun who became one of many to joined the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps during the Second World War. But well after she’d finally hung up her uniform, women still had a long, long way to go in the police force.
And now, finally, there’s a woman holding the most senior police rank in the UK – Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. About time, too.
My glowing review of the book
Author’s website – https://chrisnickson.co.uk/
Chris Nickson on Twitter https://twitter.com/ChrisNickson2