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 (1901-1914) a great deal of attention was paid to 'deviant' female sexual behaviour and there was a strong societal will to police the morals of working class women in particular. Two things were instrumental in the grudging acceptance of women police in the second decade of the 20th century: concern over the ‘white slave traffic’ which coerced participation in the sex trade and the advent of the First World War. (In WWI Dorothy Peto OBE KPFSM was the Assistant Woman Patrol organiser in Bristol; she came to the Met. in 1930.) Everywhere, problems of order and decency in public places cried out for an urgent solution. The Met’s future women police service had its foundation in the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW - founded 1895 - known from 1918 to present day as the National Council for Women). In 1914 the NUWW approached Scotland Yard for advice and help. The commissioner agreed to help them and issue identification cards, which requested police to render them any necessary assistance. 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 March 1917 the commissioner asked the NUWW to provide 37 full time paid Special Patrols to central London and 29 in the suburbs. By the end of the year central London had 55 Special Patrols. A grant of £400 was made to the NUWW from Police Funds to do this. 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 Patrols with the appointment of Mrs Stanley as its superintendent. Arrangements with the NUWW were terminated. Women police were established on the streets of London in 1919. They had a contract for a year as an experiment but had no power of arrest.
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 Edward 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. Abolition under the Geddes Axe was short lived. But in December 1922, fifty officers were sworn in, and this time with full powers of arrest, under the leadership of Inspector Clayden. In 1930, Dorothy Peto was appointed superintendent and A4 (Women Branch) was established. 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. Dorothy Peto wrote in her diaries "the strength of police forces fell rapidly as men of all ranks left to join the Colours”.
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 from 1973. In the years prior to 1973, women officers worked 7½ hour early and late shifts, with only one week of nights (depending on how many women were on a Division), while the men did three consecutive weeks of night duty. The women received 10% less pay than the men. 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 handled 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. The first ever female commissioner, Cressida Dick, was appointed in 2017.