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In 1862 the NSW Government under Police Regulation Act 1862(NSW) unified all existing police units and established the NSW Police Force. For 53 years the Force was comprised of males until 1915 when the Commissioner advertised two positions for female Special Constables.

Candidates were to be under thirty, of good character, unmarried and able to undertake the vigorous duties of police work. Over 400 females applied and applicants Lillian Armfield and Maud Rhodes were chosen and sworn in as Probationary Special Constables. They were the first two women to be employed in Police Service in the Commonwealth. In these days of Duty of Care and OHS it is interesting to learn that the women were required to sign an indemnity releasing the Police Department from any responsibility for their safety. They were not issued with a uniform or handcuffs and were required to wear civilian clothes.

Records are not available to know what male constables felt about the recruitment of females into the force, but it is worth quoting the story about London’s Metropolitan Police. In 1916 a constable was asked how he felt about the recruitment of women his reaction was to burst out laughing! Women Police Constables were recruited in 1918.

The question is asked, ‘why the sudden need to recruit women in police service?’ The 20th Century and WWI brought changes; the emancipation of women and the demand by women to be employed in the police force, as due to the war women were carrying out work traditionally filled by men. There was also a serious need for qualified females to deal with women and children. In 1921 Maud Rhodes resigned, leaving Lillian Armfield now a Special Constable 1st Class. By 1929 the strength of the Women’s establishment had been increased to eight which also included a shorthand typist.

In 1939 Australia was again at war and many constables joined the Defence Forces. By 1941 recruiting policemen became difficult and a further increase of women police was authorised. Just like in 1915, over 500 women applied and six were selected; Rita Collins, Coralie Lucas, Catherine MacRae, Nancy Morgan, Ita Taylor and Joan Weaver. Joan would later become Officer in Charge of the Women Police Office. The City of Newcastle Command received its first women con- stables when Rita Collins and Eva Rosser were transferred to the command.

From 1945 to 1964, improvements in the status of women in the NSW Police Force moved slowly. Sixty women were employed and Commissioner Norm Allan approved the transmission of Police Women from Special Constables to Sworn Constables, entitling them to superannuation benefits, long service leave and other benefits allowing them to remain in the force when they married. Although they still had a separate seniority list and were promoted according to the number of authorised positions it meant that women were not receiving promotions like their male colleagues.

In 1975 the NSW Police Force commemorated the Golden Jubilee of 60 years of Women Policing in NSW giving an opportunity to look back at their progress and achievements since 1964. In 1968 a number of Police Women including Del Fricker received Commissioner Commendations for the arrest of two armed offenders and Del Fricker later was to receive the British Empire Medal for arresting another violent offender. In 1971 a number of Police Women, including Del Fricker and Gwen Martin, received the Sydney University Diploma in Criminology and the following year Del Fricker and Gwen Martin attended the Detective Training Course to become the first women detectives.

In 1915 the first two women entered the NSW Police Force as Women Special Constables. As a career the police force offered a limited future and it would be fair to say that until post-WWII the duties for women were confined to welfare and school lecturing. The Sixties brought many changes including married status and promotion, the seventies and eighties allowed membership of the Police Association, transfer to the General Duties Division and equal seniority on the Seniority List.

Today, there are 1,719 women in the NSW Police Force. The long road of 100 years has seen slow changes and those women who joined in the early days would be surprised to see women constables now riding horses, patrolling with male colleagues, heading Divisions and Regional Crime Squads, occupying very senior positions as Deputy Commissioners and achieving the position of Police Commissioner for the State of Victoria.


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