Women in the Force
In the beginning
Greater Manchester Police
The first women employed by the police were known as Police Matrons. They were civilians appointed to search, supervise and escort women prisoners held at police stations or the courts, and to prepare female bodies brought in to police station mortuaries for examination by the police surgeon. The Metropolitan Police employed their first two Matrons in 1883, and by the 1890s we have evidence of them in the Manchester police. Very often Matrons were the wives of serving police officers.
It was 1921 when Clara Walkden of Oldham Borough Police became the first known sworn-in Police Woman Constable in the Greater Manchester area. Along with two women in the Lancashire Constabulary, they appear to have been the only sworn-in women Constables in the area until the late 1930s.
The next major change that really affected the role of women in the police was the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act which abolished the separate Policewomen’s Departments in forces, harmonised pay scales and opened up all aspects of police work to women.
In 1995, it finally became possible to say that women were present in all ranks of the police service when Pauline Clare QPM became Britain’s first female Chief Constable at Lancashire Constabulary, and twelve years later Greater Manchester Police appointed its first female Assistant Chief Constable, Justine Curran, in 2007. Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives
Girl Police Cyclists (1960)
M/S of a young woman, Patricia Petherwick, walking along the street past some shops; she is quite smartly dressed in a black suit. The commentator asks “Have you ever tried guessing at people’s occupations?” She stops at a greengrocers with lots of fruit and vegetables displayed outside; a woman comes out to serve her, putting some oranges in a bag. Commentator: “You’d have a job guessing what she does for a living so we’ll tell you.
“Not only is she a policewoman, but she’s one of their first motor cyclists.” M/S of two policewomen, PP and Betty Wilkinson, on motorcycles coming to a halt and dismounting at training ground at the Metropolitan Police Driving School in Hendon; both have ‘L’ plates on the front of their police bikes (200 cc shaft driven) – and they’re wearing skirts! They remove their helmets then M/Ss & C/Us as police sergeant Robert Graham walks into shot and talks to them, pointing out various features on the bike; the foot brake and clutch, as they look on. M/Ss as the policeman gets onto one of the bikes and starts it up, then starts to drive in and out of some bollards; C/U of PP looking on. M/Ss as the policeman comes to a halt next to the women and gets off the bike as they are putting their helmets on; then the girls get on their bikes and drive off, winding in and out of the bollards as the policeman watches.
The commentator tells us “The girls are not destined to be ‘speed cops’ in the accepted sense – the aim is really to provide women police with transport in outlying stations”. Various M/Ss and C/Us as they drive round the bollard course; commentator says “Twelve girls were selected for this first trial course but if the scheme proves successful no doubt it will be repeated. Girls like these will, of course, play a dual role – being motor cycle police some of the time and for the rest substituting the conventional cap for her crash helmet. In either style, we can rely on her to make a pretty fair cop!”