How many of you noticed that earlier this week Police Scotland marked 100 years of women in policing with a passing out parade, and that almost two-fifths of the officers in the parade were women. Glasgow was also celebrating because the very first policewoman in Scotland was appointed by the City of Glasgow police force. However, both of these celebrations were a tad early, because Emily Miller, Scotland’s first policewoman, was appointed on 6th September 1915. Still, I don’t suppose that matters too much.
Scotland was also a bit behind the times in accepting a woman into the police, because the first women’s police service came into being a year earlier in 1914, and many of the first policewomen were former suffragettes. The two main suffragette organisations, the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), and the WFL (Women’s Freedom League), joined forces to formulate the Women’s Police Volunteers (WPV) after the sufragettes decided to curtail their activities for the duration of the Great War. They were not the only police service however, because the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW) set up the Voluntary Women Patrols. But this article is not about women police in London, or elsewhere in England, it is about Scottish policewomen.
The decision to employ women in the police force was made by the Chief Constable of each individual force, therefore Scotland was no different to England in that respect. However, the resistance to women was more widespread in Scotland, and in evidence at the Baird committee in 1920, the Town Clerk of Stirling stated – “We neither need them or want them”.
Glasgow City Police, however, had lost so many men to the Great War, they had to take radical measures. They employed hundreds of temporary constables and increased the number of men in the Special Constabulary, and they appointed Emily Miller in September 1915. Miss Miller remained the only policewoman in Scotland until 1918, when Mrs Jean Thomson or Wright was employed by the City of Dundee Police. There was actually another woman employed by the police in 1914, prior to Emily Miller, and that was the Court Sister in Aberdeen, whose duties included everything a policewoman might do, however little is known about her.
The Baird Report into employment of women for police duties, which heard evidence in 1920, is the place to go to find out details of how policewomen were employed and what their experience was. Both Emily Miller and Jean Thomson gave evidence, and it would appear that Miss Miller’s duties involved working with women and children, whereas Mrs Thomson’s role was wider, and it could be said she was the closest thing to a policewoman that Scotland had, although neither woman had powers of arrest. Women constables would have to wait until 1924 before they were granted this power.
It took a long time for women to achieve the same status as men in the police force, and initially they were used for work with women and children. The power of arrest, as stated earlier, came in 1924, and few women were employed – Glasgow only had eleven policewomen at that time. Promotions were unheard of and it was 1940 before the first woman constable was promoted to Detective Sergeant, and 1954 before there was a Chief Inspector, and 1995 when the first female Chief Superintendent was appointed, she went on to become the first Assistant Chief Constable. It was 2008 before Norma Graham became Scotland’s first female Chief Constable, making it a full 93 years before a woman reached the top of the tree.
The problem with researching the early women police is that records are sparse in Scotland, although I believe the London Metropolitan Police have more information in their archive. Joan Lock, a former policewoman and now a crime writer, used this archive to write, The British Policewoman: her story, the book that got me interested in the origins of women police services in Britain.
The women who joined the police in 1914 and beyond were adventurous, fascinating characters who weren’t afraid of authority, nor did they take kindly to the taunts they received from the constables of the time. Things like, ‘get back to your washboards’, and much worse. They were dedicated, tough, disciplined women whose training included learning martial arts like ju jitsu, and they ventured into places that many male constables avoided. These women, many of whom have faded into obscurity, were worthy forerunners of today’s modern policewoman.
My own historical crime mystery, The Death Game, was inspired by these women, and because my crime stories are set in Dundee it was fortuitous that the second policewoman in Scotland, Jean Thomson, worked there as a policewoman between 1918 to 1921, The Death Game could be said to have been inspired by her. Naturally, my Kirsty Campbell, bears no resemblance whatsoever to Jean Thomson, but I have given Kirsty the London Women’s Police service training, including the ju jitsu, and then transported her to Dundee.
The recognition paid this week to these pioneering police women is well deserved, and long overdue.