Pauline Clare beat off competition which included four senior male officers to land the head job at Lancashire Constabulary. She won the unanimous backing of the police authority and will head one of the largest provincial forces, responsible for 3,200 officers, 500 of them women.
Mrs Clare, 47 and an Open University psychology graduate, joined the force as a cadet at 17. She now heads the same force that launched her career. Married to a solicitor in the Crown Prosecution Service, she has two adult stepdaughters.
She succeeds Brian Johnson, who retires on 27 July. In the pounds 71,000-a- year job, Mrs Clare will be working to a budget of pounds 155m a year. She was once reported as saying: "It has never been a man's world, they only think it is."
Lancashire force sources said last night that Mrs Clare's appointment was expected to be widely welcomed in the ranks. Her reputation as current number two in the Cheshire force is for pleasant efficiency and a down-to-earth approach to dealing with colleagues.
Inevitably comparisons have been made with the high-profile case of Alison Halford who took the police through the law courts in an attempt to prove sexual discrimination was rife.
While Miss Halford was engaged in legal warfare, Mrs Clare appeared to favour a different route to promotion, ironically within the same force as Miss Halford, Merseyside.
She became Assistant Chief Constable (crime) - a post Miss Halford claimed would never be given to a woman because of male prejudice - and went on to head the force's operations before becoming Deputy Chief Constable of neighbouring Cheshire last year.
According to the Home Office, the total number of women officers has risen from 11,308 (about 9 per cent of the force) in 1985, to a current figure of 15,400 (12 per cent).
Among senior posts the number of women at superintendent and chief superintendent level has barely increased in the past five years, remaining at 1.3 and 1.7 per cent. Mrs Clare's appointment will at least create a new category for statisticians.