Who was the first Metropolitan Policewoman?
The Metropolitan Police of London may have been formed in 1829, but it would take another 90 years before it had its first female peeler or bobby. The catalyst, much like with suffrage, was World War I. Since men were away fighting, women went into the workplace and took on traditionally male roles, including in law and order.
Volunteer policing organisations such as the Women’s Police Service were set up and, in 1915, Edith Smith became the first officer in Britain as she patrolled Grantham. In fact, several towns and cities had women on the beat before London. The prospect of a woman in the Met was still making officers laugh in 1916, with one simply saying, “Not even if the war lasts 50 years.”
That officer was wrong. In 1919, the Metropolitan Police Women Patrols began, led by one of the most committed volunteers, Sofia Stanley. Commissioner Sir Nevil Macready was all in favour of female constables, although he admitted he didn’t want “vinegary spinsters” or “blighted middle-aged fanatics” filling the ranks.
And there were limitations: most notably that they didn’t have the power of arrest until 1922. Upon witnessing a crime, they had to fetch a male colleague.
ARRESTING DEVELOPMENTS It was an unfair cop, but women PCs lacked powers of arrest until 1922