The Role Of Female Police Officers In South Wales Police Through History
Police Volunteer during World War 1
Women were first employed on police duties during the First World War (1914-1918). Before then the employment of women had been limited to such duties as supervising, searching and escorting women and children in custody. However these police matrons were not constables and did not go out on the beat. In fact, many were the wives of serving police officers.
During the First World War, there were two groups of women employed on police duties. The first were Voluntary Women Patrols, organised by the National Union of Women Workers, the second were called the Women Police Volunteers. After the war the latter group changed their name to the Women's Auxiliary Service. Both were concerned chiefly with the moral guidance of women and undertook preventative patrols near to army camps and in munitions factories. They also provided suitable women for employment by interested police authorities. In time some of these became part-time or full-time renumerated policewomen.
The Baird Committee, 1920
On the appointment of the Baird Committee in 1920, which looked at the employment of policewomen, 43 police authorities in England and Wales were employing 238 women.
The Committee found that the experience of war had proved the value of women police in a limited capacity, and it recommended an increase in the number appointed.
Attitudes to Female Police Officers
Most police forces in the early 1920s were forced to endure severe economies. The Glamorgan Constabulary, for example, the original name by which South Wales Police was known, was reduced in strength by 5%, which dealt a serious blow to the development of women in policing.
However in 1924, another Committee was appointed to address the issue. At this time policewomen were employed in the Metropolitan Police District, six County Forces and 27 City and Borough Forces, the total strength being 110. This Committee reached very similar conclusions to the first, but was far less enthusiastic about the employment of women.
A document stating the Committee's findings can be found within the South Wales Police Archives held at the Glamorgan Record Office in Cardiff, and its conclusions make fascinating reading.
The Committee recognised the considerable diversity of opinion on the employment of women. A Representative of the "Police Committee of the Association of Municipal Corporations" gave evidence there there was no general public demand for the extended employment of policewomen, and urged that the whole question was one that should be left to the discretion of the local authorities. The County Councils' Association, in a letter addressed to the Committee, expressed the opinion that so far as County areas were concerned the employment of women was unnecessary. Similarly, three representatives of the "Police Federation" expressed a general opposition to the employment of women in the Police Service, holding the view that such work as they were able to do would be better done by independent organisations in touch with the police.
On the other hand, representatives of the "National Council of Women of Great Britain" and the "London Council for the Promotion of Public Morality" urged that Police Authorities throughout the country should appoint a sufficient number of policewomen to ensure proper administration, and expressed the opinion that the success attending their employment fully justified their continuance and extension.
The Committee's findings intimate that any benefit of employing women as police officers was solely linked to a role in "saving growing girls from temptation," which they concluded was a police responsibility. It was believed at the time that a connection existed between sexual immorality and offence against the law, and that the emancipation of women brought about by the First World War had exacerbated an existing problem and had "most certainly forced it on the notice of many who enjoyed a happy ignorance about such evils."
Sir Nevil Macready, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, submitted a letter to the Committee, stating his ideal female police recruit:
"The main point was to eliminate any women of extreme views - the vinegary spinster or blighted middle-aged fanatic - and to get broad-minded, kindly, sensible women who would bring to bear commonsense in their dealings with their sisters who had taken a wrong turning, more often from a desire to lighten a dull existence than from inherent vice."
The Committee agreed whole-heartedly with his opinions, but also warned of the dangers of employing very young female police officers for fear that they would become "hard and superficial" through early and repeated exposure to sexual offences and would lack the very qualities for which their presence in the Force was required.
Captain Lionel Lindsay, Chief Constable of the Glamorgan Constabulary (1891-1937)
In Glamorgan, the Standing Joint Committee asked Chief Constable Lionel Lindsay, a bachelor and retired colonial policeman, to consider the benefit of employing women. In December 1924 he reported:
"I have very carefully considered the question of the employment of police women in the County of Glamorgan from every possible standpoint affecting the administration of a large County Police Force, and I unhesitatingly declare that I am unable to subscribe to the opinion expressed that their employment would be any advantage to the County."
In considering the various duties in which women police officers may be of value, his complete lack of sensitivity is astonishing, but typical of his era:
"Cases of a sexual nature...are very rare, and, on these occasions the duty of taking the required statements is allocated to an officer of responsibility..."
In 1931, Viscountess Astor, MP, spoke in Cardiff on the issue of women police.
She sent a personal letter of invitation to Chief Constable Lionel Lindsay. His answer is unknown, but it is highly likely he did not attend and/or was not impressed, as the issue of women police officers was not raised again throughout the remaining years of Lindsay's Chief Constableship.
Outbreak of the Second World War
The start of the Second World War in 1939 was to again place the spotlight on women in the police. Members of the Women's Auxiliary Police Corps, including those in Glamorgan, were employed in supporting roles such as clerical duties, typing, canteen work and driving.
Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps working as telephonists during World War 2
Mr Joseph Jones, Chief Constable (1937-1951)
Manpower shortages during the war years of 1939-1945 led the Home Office to force Lindsay's successor, Mr Joseph Jones who took over at the helm in 1937, and his colleagues, to reappraise the value of women.
In common with other organisations women began to take responsibility for supportive duties such as typing, answering telephones and general housekeeping in larger stations, thereby releasing more men for active duty in the armed forces.
The First Women Police Officers in the Glamorgan Constabulary
After the war a distinction developed between those women who continued to undertake administrative support duties, known in the County Force as Female Civilian Clerks, and the new police women employed to undertake a limited number of duties thought suitable - dealing with lost children, domestic violence and cases of a sexual nature.
WPC 4 Vera Williams, one of the first female police officers in the Glamorgan Constabulary, photographed in Barry at the very end of the 1940s
The first two policewomen in the Glamorgan Constabulary, WPC 1 Elsie Baldwin and WPC 2 Florence Knight, were appointed on 13th March 1948.
WPC1 Elsie Joan Baldwin
WPC1 Elsie Joan Baldwin always referred to herself by her middle name, as was common in those days. She was born and brought up in the Gamekeeper's Cottage of the Lord Romilly Estate (now Porthkerry Park). Her father was James Baldwin, Gamekeeper to Lord Romilly of Barry, and Joan was the second youngest of 5 daughters. She joined the police from her service in the Second World War. Joan later married and changed her name to Lewis. She passed away in 1995.
The first female special constable, WSC 1 Elizabeth Rees, was appointed on 3rd July 1950.
The New South Wales Constabulary
In 1969, under the provisions of the 1964 Police Act which promoted greater efficiency for the police service, the police forces of Glamorgan, Cardiff, Swansea and Merthyr Tydfil amalgamated, creating the new South Wales Constabulary. Upon formation, policewomen were employed in the Criminal Investigation and Traffic Departments, Special Branch and Drugs Squad as well as in the uniform branch carrying out traditional beat duties.
In 1975 in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act, the Policewomen's Section of South Wales Constabulary ceased to exist, and with it the discriminatory prefix WPC.
1989 heralded another landmark with the appointment of the first female police officer in the South Wales Constabulary Dog Section, PC Ishbel Jones.
A Modern Police Force
South Wales Constabulary changed its name to South Wales Police in 1996. Today's modern police force boasts 641 serving female police officers and 1140 female civilian staff, supporting its first female Chief Constable, Miss Barbara Wilding.
Miss Barbara Wilding, Q.P.M. Chief Constable of South Wales Police
Police history often reflects the social history of a geographical area, its people and views. This is particularly true of the role of women.
As successive generations of women have fought for an equal co-existence with men in society, so their role in the policing of South Wales has developed accordingly.
150 years ago women were not allowed to be police officers. Instead, as the wives of police officers, they were expected to cook, clean and generally keep the police station tidy.
Today women police officers can take an active part in every aspect of police life, from going on the beat to taking the helm of the 8th largest police force in England and Wales with a budget of £207.4 million, meeting the challenges that face it and driving its future development and success.
Force Museum Assistant : 16 February 2006