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FROM the VAULT – Police Women in Queensland

Historically, policing organisations were male-dominated and remain so to this day. The Queensland Police was no exception, in line with the majority of police forces, the department was exclusively male well into the 1900s.

On March 16, 1931, Eileen O’Donnell 35, and Zara Dare 45, became the first female Police Officers in Queensland. Although they were appointed Policewomen, they were not actually sworn and had no uniform or powers of arrest. Both women were single, a criterion consistent with the marriage bar in the public service.

Miss Dare and Miss O’Donnell worked under the supervision of the Inspector, Metropolitan Division.  They worked regular hours, but with one of them on call out-of-hours.  They do not appear to have received any formal training.  Their tasks included escorting female prisoners, sometimes on long train journeys, and occasionally body searching female prisoners.

In March 1965, the first women were sworn into the ranks and in June the first uniformed police women joined in following regular probationary training.

On March 31, 1965 eight serving female police took the Oath of Office and became fully sworn Police Officers. Front to Rear: Elizabeth Boyle; Laura Frisch; Ailsa Warnick; Pat Ryan; Clare Conaty; Yvonne Weier; Judith Barrett; Olwen Doolan.  Image No. PM2055 courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

On March 31, 1965 eight serving female police took the Oath of Office and became fully sworn Police Officers.
Front to Rear: Elizabeth Boyle; Laura Frisch; Ailsa Warnick; Pat Ryan; Clare Conaty; Yvonne Weier; Judith Barrett; Olwen Doolan. Image No. PM2055 courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

Changes to the Police Acts brought women police in Queensland into line with their counterparts in other States, most of whom who had enjoyed equal powers, pension rights and more substantial staff allocations since the time they were first appointed or soon after. The outstanding difference remaining for the Queenslanders was lack of equal pay. On September 1 1970, 39 years after the first policewomen were appointed, and on the same day Ray Whitrod became Police Commissioner, equal pay was finally achieved.

Commissioner Whitrod’s programme called for tremendous changes in the organisation. He introduced the same introductory training for female recruits at the academy as men before being sworn in. The swearing in ceremony marked the end of 16 weeks training.

Newspaper article showing Constable Noala Holman demonstrating judo hold on Police Cadet Malcolm Taylor, 1967. Image No. PM1273 courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

Newspaper article showing Constable Noala Holman demonstrating judo hold on Police Cadet Malcolm Taylor, 1967.
Image No. PM1273 courtesy of The Sunday Mail.

The training course covered law and police duties, traffic lectures, report writing, typing, swimming, judo, karate, physical training, first aid, pistol drill, courts visits, visits to juvenile aid, scientific sections of the Police Force and to the Institute of Forensic Pathology. Commissioner Whitrod’s open door policy resulted in an influx of women applicants.

‘Aiming to Protect Us’ (The Courier Mail 12 Jan, 1972). Correct pistol stance was shown to Miss Linda Stephenson, 23, of Coorparoo, at the Police Depot, Petrie Terrace, by Officer-in-Charge of the Training Section Sergeant 1/c D.P. Bodenham. Image courtesy of The Courier Mail.

‘Aiming to Protect Us’ (The Courier Mail 12 Jan, 1972). Correct pistol stance was shown to Miss Linda Stephenson, 23, of Coorparoo, at the Police Depot, Petrie Terrace, by Officer-in-Charge of the Training Section Sergeant 1/c D.P. Bodenham.
Image courtesy of The Courier Mail.

On completion of their training, police women were posted to fill a whole range of police duties:

They joined the Traffic Branch where they took on point duty at busy intersections. They worked in mobile units, including an all-women traffic car. They participated in school liaison teams, controlled the desk in the operations room and performed beat duty on all shifts…They became qualified searchers in fingerprint department. They contributed as full members to the planning and searching section. They became plainclothes officers in the drug and criminal investigation sections…They joined the police pipe band. They became instructors at the academy. They joined the water police unit and the public order squad. (Whitrod, R. 2001)

Between 1976 and 1978, under the commissionership of Terrence M. Lewis, the department suffered a significant setback in recruitment and advancement of women in the Queensland Police with the number of female sworn officers dropping from eight per cent to five. The number of female recruits did not rise, and stabilise at around 30%, until the 1990s, when the Police Service Administration Act 1990 and the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 reinforced merit-based criteria of employment.

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This information has been provided by the Queensland Police Museum from the best resources available.  The article was written by Museum Volunteer and Crime and Policing Historian Dr Anastasia Dukova.

The Police Museum is open 9am to 4pm Monday to Thursday and 10am to 3pm on the last Sunday of the month (Feb-Nov) and is located on the Ground Floor of Police Headquarters at 200 Roma Street, Brisbane. Contact: E: [email protected]

“FROM the VAULT – Police Women in Queensland”  by the Queensland Police Service is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (BY) 2.5 Australia Licence. Permissions may be available beyond the scope of this licence.
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