14 May 1917 is an important day in the history of policing. After lots of debate, women would be allowed to be police officers in Birmingham.
Mrs Rebecca Lipscombe and Mrs Evelyn Miles were the first two women police officers. They earned 35 shillings a week, which is £1.75 today. Interestingly, records showed that both started on 30 April 1917, two weeks before the decision.
Mrs Lipscombe was 60 and Mrs Miles was 54 when they became officers. Given the life expectancy was around 57, they started their new career at a late stage.
Mrs Lipscombe and Mrs Miles were not attested when they joined. This meant they could not arrest anyone except under common law, which actually allowed anyone to arrest someone under:
- The Vagrancy Act 1824
- The Highways Act 1835
- larceny offences
- indictable offences between 9pm and 6am
Both Mrs Lipscombe and Mrs Miles showed immense character to go from young, unwed mothers to respected married ladies who could work for the police. Even a hint of scandal could have seen them sacked, so a good reputation was vital.
You can find out more about them by selecting their names, or continue reading about the history of women in policing in Birmingham.
More women police officers came into the force in October 1917, as a result of casualties from World War I. The Chief Constable recommended to recruit more police woman on 8 October 1987. He’d clearly given it some thought beforehand, as Mrs Malinda Shaw became the third police woman. By the end of the month, two more women in Miss Elsie Chapman and Mrs Mary Dwelly, also joined the force.
Mrs Shaw records have not survived, but records so show that Miss Chapman became a court matron on 24 September 1917. Her pay was 25 shillings a week, 10 less than Mrs Lipscombe and Mrs Miles. On the back of her summary sheet, it states that:
“Miss Chapman will perform duty in the dock whenever female prisoners are brought up, but will be available for any other duty either as Policewoman or Matron as necessary.”
This appears to meet the request of the people who conducted the meeting when appointing the first two woman in policing. They wanted a matron to be specifically appointed to deal with all court cases involving women and children. It would be 16 years before legislation meant that a female officer had to be court for all cases involving children.
More meeting minutes from 31 October show confirm that Miss Chapman and Miss Dwelly were both appointed as women police officers, earning 35 shillings a week. Miss Chapman’s record in the personnel ledger shows though that she remained at 25 shillings until 1926. Her wages and war bonus were put together to make 39 shillings a week. It looks like she mainly remained a court matron, thus her lower salary.
Mrs Lizzie May Peers also joined in September 1918, however her records have not survived. Mrs Lucy Charlton joined at the same time, and we have her file in the museum. Want to view it? Book tickets on the website. Mrs Dwelly resigned on 27 April 1919, becoming the first female police woman in Birmingham resign. Mrs Peers did the same in December of that year, and Mrs Shaw followed in 1922.