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The long ma'am of the law; 95 YEARS OF WOMEN POLICE OFFICERS.

Byline: DENNIS ELLAM; ADAM LEE-POTTER

IN their ankle-length skirts and pudding-basin hats, they looked more Mary Poppins than Juliet Bravo.

But on the streets of Britain in 1914, villains and ne'er do wells soon learned that these ladies weren't to be messed with.

It's now 95 years since the first policewomen went on the beat.

These were women who had not only had to face danger from crooks and thieves, but also ridicule from general members of the public and the chauvinist rantings of senior policemen who told them they ought to be at home in their kitchens.

"We shouldn't underestimate what these pioneers achieved," says writer - and former WPC302C - Joan Lock, author of The British Policewoman, history of women in the force. "They were very courageous. They were determined to do their duty.

"These days, it's impossible to imagine what a police force would be like without women."

Today there are 36,000 women police officers - 20 per cent of the force - including five chief constables.

The first into uniform were in London, a small group of former suffragettes who decided to put their campaign for the women's vote on hold while they did their bit for the war effort.

Male officers were horrified.

But, with thousands off fighting in the First World War, the Met was short of recruits.

The "lady policemen" were reluctantly accepted, but they weren't allowed on patrol. Instead they helped with children being taken into care, and prostitutes brought into the cells.

They met the trainloads of women evacuees pouring in from Europe every day, to save them from falling into the clutches of pimps and madams.

It wasn't until November 27, 1914 that the first women stepped on to the beat and into history.

Not on the streets of the capital but in Grantham, Lincs. Three unlikely figures in uniform arrived at the station and marched through pouring rain into town, followed by a curious crowd.

They were all middle-class suffragettes who had once battled police on the protest lines. Now they were policewomen themselves... Mary Allen, 25, once threw a brick through a window at the Home Office. Imprisoned three times, she went on hunger strike and had to be force-fed.

Ellen Harburn, 50, was from a well-off Manchester family, a former school manager and friend of suffragette leader Emily Pankhurst.

And finally Margaret Damer Dawson was a 39-year-old who had a reputation as a battleaxe and wore a commandant's peaked cap.

Grantham needed cleaning up. Around 30,000 men were based at the military camp and the town had become like the Wild West, overrun with drunks and prostitutes.

The policewomen were told to "keep an eye on alleys, courts, yards and passages". The chief constable said he didn't care what they did as long as they kept out of his way. They were only there because a relative of Margaret Damer Dawson's was the camp commandant.

The women weren't paid. As well-bred ladies, they wouldn't have accepted wages anyway. But they threw themselves into policing, entering filth-ridden houses where children were at risk and walking into crowded pubs to confront drunks and hostile landlords.

And, once they raised their refined voices, the mobs would listen.

Several times a day, they had to separate couples having sex in the fields and lanes around the base. A sharp crack from a rolled umbrella usually did the trick.

They left handwritten reports about some of their cases.

One read: "On visiting the house of a woman suspected of being of bad character, married, with seven children, whose husband is a soldier at the front, the policewoman found a soldier in the house.

"The woman was alarmed and promised to send the man away directly after supper. The policewoman returned at 11pm and, finding the there, drove him out, cautioning him return."

The next year Grantham appointed the first policewoman with powers of arrest, Smith. And Damer Dawson and her moved on to bomb-blitzed Hull to a force there.

Soon policewomen were appearing in towns and cities around the country and the 1916 Police Act gave them a legal standing.

After the war ended in 1918, the Met tried to disband them. One officer said the policewomen could now go home to their washtubs.

By the late 1920s, there were still only 48 fulltime WPCs in London. But during the Second World War, and in the years that followed, their numbers multiplied.

By the time writer Joan Lock served, between 1954 and 1960, WPCs were tackling all kinds of police work.

"We were respected members of the squad, we had finally been given the recognition that the first pioneers struggled for," Joan says.

"A woman and a man could go into the nightclubs and casinos, where the gangsters of the day liked to gather, and listen in while they planned their next bank raid.

"Damer Dawson and the rest would have been thrilled..."

The first chief inspector

ROSE Prizeman joined the police in 1930, aged20,androse to the top-at a time when women were still struggling to be recognised in such a male-dominated job. Indeed, back then the Metropolitan Police had just 50 women in its ranks.

In her South London patch The Remarkable Rose - as villains and colleagues alike knew her - tackled murderers, rapists and robbers, eventually becoming the first-ever female chief inspector in 1940.

She inspired her niece Linda Commander (right, to join up. "I used to listen to her stories when I was growing up," Linda said.

MET officer Cressida Dick became the first woman Assistant Commissioner earlier this year.

WOMEN police officers are now given uniform issue hijabs to wear when they enter a mosque.

SISLIN Fay Allen became Britain's first black WPC, joining the Metropolitan Police in 1968.

YVONNE Fletcher was the third WPC to be killed on duty when she was shot in the Libyan embassy siege in 1984.

WPCs on the frontline in Britain are set to be given bulletproof bras like the Bundespolizei in Germany.

CAPTION(S):

1915 Edith Smith... first with arrest powers 1920 WPCs fought for rights post-war 2009 20 per cent of the police is now made up of WPCs 1949 Policewomen learn how to restrain troublemaker 1918 At the end of WW1 there were only a handful of WPCs Rose Prizeman rose to the top
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 20, 2009
Words:1053
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