Glasgow’s Policewomen Pioneers

Whilst the title ‘Policewoman’ may raise more than a few eyebrows in today’s police service, it was not so long ago that the title was one which many women in the police forces throughout the Britain were proud to call themselves. The employment of women in the police service took a long time to achieve, and like many social changes involving women during the twentieth century, was mainly a consequence of its wars.

An exception to this, and apparently most other rules, was ‘Big Rachel’ of Partick whose success in law enforcement owed more to her 6ft 4 inch / 16 stone stature than to her feminine intuition!

Her name was Mrs. Rachel Hamilton or Johnston and, during the 1870’s, she worked as a labourer for Todd and McGregor (Shipbuilders), the Anchor Line Sheds and was later a forewoman navvy at Jordanhill Brickworks. She was also known to have laboured on Andrew Simpson’s Farm at Anniesland. She also liked to smoke a pipe in her spare time.

It was during the Partick Riots of the 1870’s that she was enrolled as a Special Constable. Anyone who ignored her warnings, particularly for swearing, was promptly dumped off the nearest dock into the River Clyde. Her uncompromising approach to her duties earned her a widespread reputation, which she enjoyed until her death at the age of 70, on 16 May 1899.

Whilst Big Rachel was the first recorded policewoman in the Glasgow area, I would suggest that her employment, and undoubted success, as a special constable was really an ‘organizational hiccup’ in an otherwise male dominated field of employment and, as will be shown later, appeared to fail to persuade almost two generations of City fathers that female police officers had a valuable part to play in policing.

On 1 December, 1911, such was the outcry concerning immorality in Glasgow, that the Chief Constable James V. Stevenson, supported by the Police Procurator Fiscal and Town Clerk Depute, submitted a proposal to the Magistrates Committee, requesting the employment of women detectives. Their suggestion was that woman detectives would interview and take statements from women and girls in cases of indecency. You would think that this would have been received as an innovative and very practical suggestion in the post-Victorian era – think again!

The idea was opposed by a number of magistrates who were concerned that in such cases, the women detectives would be investigating only that part of the case involving women and girls. This, they said, would deny the male detective officer, who would report the case, the opportunity to judge the truthfulness of the victims. This was in keeping with the practice of one (male) officer being responsible for the gathering of all the evidence in a case was strictly insisted upon by the Sheriff’s Fiscal.

In the face of this opposition, a revised suggestion that women detectives could investigate the whole case themselves was also objected to on the grounds that it would take them many years to gain the experience to be entrusted with such responsible and exacting work! It was obvious that whilst the concept of women detectives was supported by the Chief Constable, the City Fathers were not ready for women detectives and it would be four more years before the first tentative steps would be taken.

On 6 September 1915, Miss Emily Miller was appointed as a ‘statement taker’ (later to be known as The Female Investigation Officer) to obtain statements from women and girls ‘which men would have difficulty in obtaining, and generally to assist the Police in any way in which her services can be made available’. Although the Chief Constable and his senior officers were obviously keen on the idea, the detectives allocated indecency cases were somewhat reluctant to utilize Miss Miller. This caused the Chief Constable to issue an order on 4 December of that year instructing that ‘only when Miss Miller’s services were not available, male officers should take the statements of women and girls in such cases. It was going to take time for Emily Miller to be accepted into the investigative process by the detectives, but she was to prove her worth and by the end of the First World War was seen as indispensable.

Following the success of Emily Miller’s pioneering work, support to establish the Scottish Training School for Policewomen and Patrols at 13 Newton Place, Glasgow, grew. It was opened in October 1918, under the auspices of the Women Patrols Committee for Scotland of the National Union of Women Workers but despite vigorous campaigning to retain it, it closed in 1920. Policewomen were to be given local training by their respective forces.

On 14 December 1919, Chief Constable Stevenson appointed two ‘policewomen’ to patrol in plainclothes and take statements from women and girls. For some reason Miss Georgina McLeod was given the Register Number 1 and Miss Miller was later allocated number 12. The numbers of policewomen grew, although they did not have police powers. In Glasgow, this was to change on 14 June 1924, when policewomen were attested as police constables, although this was not the practice in many British police forces until after the Second World War.

Much of the early work of Glasgow’s policewomen went unheralded, but the success of one case in particular created a ‘stated case’ that is still used today. The circumstances were that the lady owner of an employment agency for woman reported to the police that she had sent several female applicants for a job at a factory owned by a man, Samuel Moorov. Some of the woman had complained that Moorov had indecently assaulted them, but the individual assaults were uncorroborated.

PW Const. Ellen Webster and PWConst Ellen Scolly

Two policewomen, Ellen Scollay and Ellen Webster, investigated the assaults and obtained a conviction against Moorov. He appealed the verdict and it was upheld that individual, uncorroborated, acts of a similar nature by an accused, corroborate each other and are instances of a systematic course of criminal conduct. This is known as ‘The Moorov Doctrine’ of mutual corroboration. (Moorov v. H.M. Advocate 1930).

In 1931, Percy Joseph Sillitoe took over as Chief Constable of Glasgow. He was a well-known supporter of the policewomen’s cause and increased their numbers from eleven to fifteen.

PW Sergeant Jean Malloy

In 1933 he promoted Miss Jean Malloy to Sergeant, the first woman in Scotland to hold the rank. Her policewomen continued to be deployed in plainclothes at all the divisions, attached to the C.I.D.

When the Second World War broke out, Councillor Violet M. Roberton, CBE, JP, formed the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps (W.A.P.C.), to fill the gaps in manpower left by male officers volunteering for military service.

WAPC Constable Audrey Sillitoe (right) the Chief Constable’s daughter in 1939

Two Hundred and twenty joined the W.A.P.C. the majority of whom were utilized for driving, canteen, clerical and wireless duties. Fourteen W.A.P.C. members were sworn in as constables, provided with a uniform, and carried out Glasgow’s first uniform patrols by policewomen, looking after women and children.

The W.A.P.C. was disbanded on 31 March 1946, but twelve uniformed policewomen were absorbed into the regular force. This increased the establishment of the Policewomen’s Department to one Inspector (J. Malloy), one Sergeant (J. Gray) and twenty-six constables.

Uniformed policewomen patrolling the city center streets was now an accepted part of policing, although they were seen as supplementary to the regular male beat constable.

PW Constables McBride and Munro

The Policewomen’s Department, situated in the Central Police Office, was divided into two shifts, and the street patrols were undertaken only where the female officers were not required for court duty, prisoner escort, missing persons and other general enquiries.

There were still a number of women attached to the C.I.D. as Detective Constables who were distributed out to the various City divisions.

The late 1940’s provided opportunities for policewomen to raise their profile. In 1948 the first Policewomen’s Conference was held in Perth and, in 1949, Gladys Scott, who was attached to ‘G’ (Govan) C.I.D., was successful in being elected to the Scottish Police Federation, as the male constables’ representative for that division. This was in spite of the fact that policewomen were not admitted to the Branch Boards as ‘advisors’ until 1953. What it did illustrate was that, among the rank and file of the force, the policewomen had been accepted by the male officers as part of the force.

Inspector Jean Malloy retired in 1949 and Janet Gray was promoted to take charge of the Policewomen’s Department with Sergeant Janet Beattie as her second-in-command. A few years later, in 1954, sixteen more policewomen were appointed, increasing the establishment to forty-four. This allowed (now) Chief Inspector Gray to deploy uniformed policewomen to the other Divisions for the first time, although they were officially on ‘H’ (Headquarters) strength.

Chief Inspector
Janet Gray

In 1961, Superintendent Janet Gray retired and was appointed the first Scottish woman Assistant H.M. Inspector of Constabulary. She was succeeded by Janet Beattie and the authorized strength remained at ninety-eight for a number of years. In 1962, the policewomen attached to the C.I.D. became Detective Constables and two years later became full representatives on the Scottish Police Federation with voting rights.

In 1967, on the retiral of Superintendent Beattie, Elizabeth Kay was appointed Superintendent in charge of the Policewomen’s Department. Shortly thereafter, the restriction that policewomen had to resign when they got married was lifted and this had a very positive effect in retaining female officers who had gained valuable investigative experience.

Two years later, in 1969, Detective Sergeant Irene Munro and Detective Constable Maureen Ingram were seconded to the Scottish Crime Squad, for the first time.

By 1972, there were 148 policewomen in the City of Glasgow Police and all divisions had at least one Policewoman Sergeant and five Policewomen Constables. They were involved in all aspects of divisional police work including regular patrols.

This was particularly true on 7 September 1972, when Policewomen Constables Vivian Tweedie and Agnes Shields were on patrol in Bridgegate, Glasgow, when they were told that a woman was trying to throw herself into the River Clyde from a nearby bridge. They went immediately to the nearby Albert Bridge, just opposite the High Court building, and found that a young woman was perched on a ledge on the outside of the parapet bridge, fifteen meters above the water.

PW Const. Vivian Tweedie and PW Const. Agnes McBride

Vivian Tweedie then climbed over the parapet and on reaching the woman, held onto her, while Agnes Shields summoned assistance. The woman was successfully removed from the bridge and both policewomen were honoured for their bravery. Vivian Tweedie received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct and, along with Agnes Shields, also received the Glasgow Corporation Medal for Bravery. (Vivian Tweedie’s awards can be seen at the Glasgow Police Museum).

During the years leading up to the amalgamation of the City of Glasgow Police and its surrounding police forces in 1975, to form Strathclyde Police, there were many improvements in the scope of operational duties performed by women in the force, since Emily Miller was first appointed in 1915. Policewomen were also involved extensively in the Force Training School in Oxford Street, being attached to the training establishments of Whitburn, Polkemmet and ultimately the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan, having come a long way from the early training school in Newton Place after the First World War.

PW Const. Elizabeth Kerr and PW Const. Janet Raeside
Glasgow’s First Traffic Policewomen – 1974

Today female officers enjoy parity with their male counterparts in all aspects of their work and the title ‘policewoman’ is not acceptable in today’s policing. However, it is interesting to look back and see the hard work and determination of “Glasgow’s Policewomen Pioneers” to meet the challenges that faced them, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, when social, and sometimes professional, attitudes were against them.

Copyright GPHS 2004