24 September 2008

Women: Police Matrons

By Eliza Tucker

Responding to demands made by the American Female Reform Society and the Women's Prison Association of New York City, in 1845, the city hired six women to work as "prison matrons." Their job was to look after female and minor inmates on Blackwell's Island and in The Tombs in Manhattan.

It wasn't until 1891 that women were officially inducted into the New York City Police Department. Before this,
...the task of searching female prisoners was performed by male officers, their wives, widows of policemen, or by the maid at the police station. The widows, known as "bedmakers," were paid out of the Policemen's own pockets. Female prisoners were not housed separately from the male prisoners. In addition, men and women (called "casuals") who came to New York City without money were often forced to find shelter at the station houses. In 1887, at various times, up to 42,000 of these homeless women spent at least one night in a station house.
~ New York City Police Department website
In 1891, after a case of a male police officer assaulting a 15-year-old female detainee, a bill passed that required male and female inmates to be housed separately, and for female officers to attend to female prisoners. After passing the civil service test and each garnering 20 recommendations by "women of good standing," four women were sworn into the position. They were assigned only to the second and fourth precincts, received one day off per month, and were paid $1000 a year (approximately $24,6000 in today's currency). Their rate of pay did not increase until 1918.

1892 -- Police Matrons required for every precinct.

1912 -- Police Matron Isabella Goodwin is the first woman to become a First Grade Detective.

1917 -- Police Commissioner Arthur Woods gives special patrolman's badges to two women, which allowed them to make arrests.

1918 -- Police Matron Mary Sullivan is the first woman to make Homicide Detective.

1919 -- Cora I. Parchment is the first African-American woman to join the NYPD.

These women women, along with their fellow works and the women's organizations that fought alongside them, pushed open doors occupationally, but they worked hard to protect the displaced, suffering women in our communities.