Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: Female police officer's badge

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The Independent US

Today in 1910, Alexander Galloway, Chief of Police at the Los Angeles Police Department, pinned a star on Alice Stebbins Wells and informed her of her duties as a "police officeress". These apparently included the "suppression of unwholesome billboard displays, searches for missing persons and maintenance of a general information bureau for woman seeking advice". Along with the badge, he gave her a telephone box key, a book of rules and a first aid book.

Having petitioned the city council the previous year for the introduction of female police officers in the LAPD, Wells wore her badge on her hand-sewn uniform with pride. But that badge wasn't always taken seriously by the public. One of the perks of becoming a police officer was riding on trolley cars around the city for free, but one conductor accused Wells of using her husband's badge to avoid paying the fare. The LAPD responded by issuing her with a "Policewoman's Badge No 1", which cleared up any confusion once and for all.

Wells is often referred to as the first female police officer, although Germany appointed one Henriette Arendt in 1903, and two other American women – Lola Baldwin of Portland and Marie Owens of Chicago – could lay claim to the title, depending on the definition of "police officer". But Wells was certainly the first American to work a beat, which included dance halls, skating rinks, penny arcades "and other places of public recreation".

In 1915 – the same year Britain appointed its first woman police constable – Wells established the International Association of Women Police, and soon persuaded the University of California to run a course in the work of women police officers. Throughout her life, she fought discrimination within the police and encouraged other women to join. µ