Women’s History Month is coming to a close.
Therefore, I’d like to end the month with an interesting story of how Indianapolis was one of the first cities to have its own female police force.
In the early 1900s, it was an extremely radical idea to let a woman be a police officer. Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco all had its own separate department for policewomen. In 1917, a report from the New York Bureau of Municipal Research helped Indianapolis advocate for its own female police force. In 1918, Indianapolis became the fourth city to have its own department for policewomen.
Clara Burnside, a social worker and juvenile probation officer, was made sergeant of the Indianapolis Police Department of Women. She supervised 13 female officers; two of the women were black, which was progressive for its time. The policewomen were unarmed and patrolled dance halls, movie theaters, parks and restaurants. Their job was to protect women and children.
Burnside advanced to captain of the Indianapolis Police Department of Women in 1921 and was in charge of 23 female officers. Their duties expanded to dealing with shoplifters, runaways and girls on the streets. They would council others and would only arrest someone as a last resort.
Unfortunately, 1921 was the peak year for the Indianapolis Police Department of Women. By 1939, the 23 female officers dwindled to 14 and their duties were mostly as matrons and telephone operators.
The shortage of men during World War II allowed for some resurgence of women in the Indianapolis police force, with 30 women hired as armed police officers during the span of the war.
After World War II, women were expected to take care of the home and men took over as police officers. It wasn’t until 1968, 50 years after women were first made police officers, that they were again allowed to join the Indianapolis Police Department and work side-by-side with men.
If you haven’t checked out the Indiana Historical Society actor/interpreter Zach Heider’s story on Indianapolis policewomen for Hot Pepper History, you may do so here. Get spicy!