Friends of the Metropolitan Police Historical Collection

Met Women Police History

Prior to the advent of women police, a female visitor was appointed in 1883 by the then Metropolitan Police Force to attend to female convicts on license and women subject to police supervision. Six years later, fourteen women were employed to deal with female prisoners at the police courts. These supervisors were also known as matrons. This represented recognition by the Met. that women's needs could not be met by a male only force. Between 1883 and 1914, various women's rights groups campaigned for the appointment of women police officers. During the Edwardian era (1901-14) a great deal of attention was paid to 'deviant' female sexual behaviour and there was a strong societal will to police the morals of particularly working class women. Two things were instrumental to the grudging acceptance of women police in the second decade of the 20th Century: concern over coerced participation in the sex trade and the advent of the First World War.  "...the strength of police forces fell rapidly as men of all ranks left to join the Colours. Everywhere, problems of order and decency in public places cried out for an urgent solution," Dorothy Peto, the first Woman Police Staff Officer, wrote in her diaries.  The Met.'s future women police service had their foundation in the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW - Founded 1895 - known from 1918 to present as the National Council for Women).  In 1914 the NUWW had been approached by Scotland Yard and asked to set up women patrols in the Metropolitan Police area.  They were known as Voluntary Women Patrols (VWP). Their task was to work among the women and girls who were coming to London in increasing numbers to hang around the various army camps, parks, recruiting stations and railway terminals.   In 1918 women aged 30 and over were given the Vote for the first time and by the end of that year the Home Secretary (Viscount Cave - Sir George Cave) ordered Sir Nevil Macready, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to recruit women into the police force. Police Orders for 22 November 1918 outline the formation of the women police with the appointment of Mrs Stanley as its Superintendent. Women police were established in London in 1919, they had a contract for a year as an experiment but had no power of arrest. Arrangements with the NUWW had been terminated.
However, this fledgling women police force soon came under pressure due to post war public expenditure cuts, the result of middle class voters objecting to high taxation. This gave justification to an existing political pressure to remove women officers from the Metropolitan Police. In 1922, women officers were cut from 112 to 20 (National Committee on Expenditure - Geddes Axe). Mr. Shortt M.P. said in the House of Commons that policemen's wives could do Women Police Work. Lady Astor retorted police did not choose their wives for patrolling streets or escorting prisoners. But abolition under the Geddes Axe was short lived. In 1923 fifty officers were re-sworn, and this time with full powers of arrest, under the leadership of Inspector Clayden.  In 1930 A4 (Women Branch) was established, and following the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, all juvenile cases were referred to this Branch.  By 1939 the Metropolitan Police employed 155 women officers and during WW2 the numbers and roles of women officers again expanded. In 1948 women officers were admitted to the Police Federation. During the 1970s, societal attitudes to women crossed a political and legal fault line with the introduction of the Equal Pay Act (1970) and Sex Discrimination Act (1975). As a consequence, women officers were amalgamated with the men on all shifts and departments in 1973. In the years prior to 1973, women officers were working a 7½ hour day and one week of nights in 12 usually but received 90% of men's pay. People inside and outside police circles considered that the Women Police Service had developed highly specialist skills with women and children. Male officers report being glad to hand over complex cases involving women and children to their female colleagues in the knowledge they would be dealt with a greater level of knowledge and skill. Nevertheless, some female officers felt they were type cast in this role and had no interest in, nor personal experience of, these matters. It is a widely held view that these specialist skills in policing women and children were lost with the disbanding of A4 Branch in 1972. These roles were re-invented over the following years with new specialist mixed gender teams. Today women officers take up every role within the Service including some of the very highest ranks. There has yet to be a woman commissioner (November, 2011).

For further information about the women police service  -  or email Sioban.