Part 1 - The Early Years 1917 - 1940
In 2017, the WA Police Force celebrated 100 years of women amongst its ranks. This milestone highlighted the pioneering achievements of female officers and staff, during a century marked by challenges and a determination to become fully integrated into the organisation.
While it’s acknowledged at the outset, the situation in Western Australia has been mirrored in other parts of Australia - and indeed internationally - it’s also true that each jurisdiction has a unique story to tell. For the purposes of context, suffice to say all Australian States, except for Queensland, began appointing women police officers between 1915 and 1930. By 1924, Victoria and NSW had four policewomen, SA had 11, WA six and Tasmania one.
In WA, women’s groups began making representations to the State Government in 1915, asking that women police be appointed to care for the social and moral welfare of women and girls, as had occurred in NSW and SA.
In 1917, WA’s Colonial Secretary made it clear extensive enquiries had been made in England and the Eastern States where policewoman had already been employed. This led shortly after to an instruction being issued to the Commissioner of Police, Robert Connell, that Cabinet desired the employment of two women police.
On 18 August 1917 Mrs Helen Dugdale was enrolled as the first probationary constable in the West. Unlike her male counterparts, she had no police training or uniform. Mrs Dugdale, a widow, was an inspector with the State Children's Department prior to her appointment. Her selection clearly reflected the thinking at the time, which was that ideally police women would be middle-aged, with life experience, a lovable nature, and preferably be a trained nurse. Her duties included such things as keeping children off the streets, assisting the Education Department to prevent truancy, monitoring newspapers so that reports could be submitted of persons endeavouring to decoy young girls by way of advertisements. Other duties included patrolling railway stations, picture shows, theatres and place of public entertainment to protect women, girls and children who had no friends waiting for them.
The appointment of Miss Laura Chipper as WA’s second probationary constable was made on 1 September 1917. Miss Chipper was the matron of a rescue home prior to taking up this new role.
In 1918, the number of female police officers had doubled to four, but little else had changed. The Commissioner reports the women are performing ‘useful and satisfactory work which fully justifies their attachment to the constabulary.’ In December 1918 Miss Chipper was transferred to Fremantle, and in 1933 both Mrs Dugdale and Miss Chipper were sent to work in Kalgoorlie.
References (for all parts of Our stories):
(i) Into the Blue – A Celebration of 80 years for Women in Policing in Western Australia. The Centre for Police Research, Edith Cowan University (1998)
(ii) The Journal for Woman and Policing Issue No.35 Spring 2014 pp 14-17
(iii) WA Police Force Strategic Human Resources - various.
(iv) The WA Police Force Commemorative Book - (digital copy)
(v) Anecdotal accounts obtained during interviews with retired WA Police Force women.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. While every effort has been made to verify all details are historically accurate, the WA Police Force does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information contained.