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Novel Magic: TrailBlazing Female Policewomen of the 1960s

Female Police Officers of the 1960s

by Dianne Scott

I am a writer who pens a female detective series. This is shocking to me. First, I’m a scaredy cat. Horror and serial killer movies drive me to hide behind the sofa pillows, hollering for someone to change the channel. (I’m still recovering from Stephen King’s The Shining read in high school.) My previous writing had been lyrical poetry and evocative short stories. Delving into the shadows, darkness, and murder was not intuitive.

Second, I wasn’t interested in policing. Sure, my father was a Toronto police officer who became Deputy Chief. I was proud of his industry, integrity, and service. But that didn’t mean I wanted to write about an institution I perceived as hierarchical, patriarchal, and not much fun for women. For this feminist, it wasn’t an appealing narrative.

But then my dad told me tales of policing Toronto Island when he was a young officer.

Toronto Island is an idyllic archipelago of connected islands, a ten-minute ferry ride from the urban center of Toronto, Canada. It has two small residential communities, acres of parkland, an amusement park, and a small airport. With its sandy beaches, winding bike paths, and willow trees, it’s been called the “jewel of Toronto.”

Well, I could set a mystery in this unique setting. A little research illuminated Toronto Island’s fascinating history of baseball leagues, gambling dens, boating regattas, dance halls, hotels, amusement parks, and political turmoil. Even in the 1960s, when my dad patrolled the island, it was a place of conflict, drama, and beauty.

So, I had an intriguing setting for a mystery, but I needed a compelling protagonist. A female officer as the main character would lead to a story rich with internal and external conflict. She would have to figure out the job, deal with bias, and find justice. The narrative could incorporate themes of equity, female friendship, and community. I was sold!

1960s era police woman uniform: Policewoman Kay Burford
Policewoman Kay Burford

Interviews with my father about policing Toronto Island gave me insight into the day-to-day nature of policing. And then I found the trailblazing women who were police officers in the 1960s: Ruth and Philomena, who worked on the Morality Squad; Kay and Georgina, who worked in the Women’s Bureau; and a host of other women who had joined the ranks during this decade.  

I was surprised by my conversations with these former female officers, now in their eighties.

I hadn’t realized that policewomen (they were called policewomen in the 60s, not police constables) had specific jobs on the force. None of the women were assigned to patrol cars with policemen.

And despite relating incidents of sexism and harassment, the policewomen proclaimed that policing had been exciting and rewarding. They all had a down-to-earth sensibility, a spirit of adventure, and a droll sense of humor. Most were sad to leave the force.

two women circa 1960s examine documents
Policewomen Kay Burford and Dorothy Taylor Rutford

In the Women’s Bureau, policewomen found lost children, gave out parking tickets, and acted as crossing guards at busy downtown intersections. When a female suspect was taken into custody, a policewoman was called to search the suspect. Female officers helped with runaways and women who had been assaulted. Because their presence was viewed as morally uplifting, they were hired as chaperones at community dances. A handful of policewomen worked undercover in the Morality Squad to find the illegal gambling parlors or backstreet abortionists plaguing Toronto.

The policewomen recounted that the job hadn’t been easy.

They wore skirts and itchy nylons and were not equipped with the same protection as the men. Their police-issue purses contained a short billy stick and their memo pad. Even though they were trained in shooting, they did not carry a gun.

So why did these women quit policing after five years (on average)?

The short answer is they had to quit. If they married a policeman or became pregnant, they had to submit their resignation. Most of the women I interviewed were forced to give up a substantial pension and the security of a unionized job with their wedding ring. Many of them later got divorced. And some of these women, now in their eighties, barely live above the poverty line.

I am grateful to these female officers who offered me a window into their experience of policing in the 1960s. I hope that my protagonist, Christine Lane, reflects their integrity, strength, and courage and honors their experience.

Meet Dianne Scott

Canadian Dianne Scott lives a short ferry ride from Toronto Island, the setting of many of her crime novels. She is the award-winning author of the Christine Lane Mystery series, including Final Look, Missing, Lost and Found, and Sabotage, which are available at Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play.

Dianne loves connecting with readers and book clubs. You can contact her at diannescottauthor.com. Receive a free short story when you sign up for her monthly newsletter, where she describes the writer’s life and things she enjoys.

Christina Lane Mystery Series: Final Look, Missing, Lost and Found, Sabotage--by Dianne Scott

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Novel Magic. To explore even more of the books we feature–Look for Find More Great Posts at the bottom of the page and in the upper right. Select Novel Magic to meet authors and find new books.

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Source Info

The percentages provided in the chart are based on general trends and estimates commonly cited in discussions about gender representation in various professions. However, it’s essential to note that these figures can vary depending on the specific source and the methodology used for data collection. Here are some common sources that may contribute to such estimates:

Government Census Data: National census reports often provide statistics on workforce demographics, including gender representation in different professions.

Labor Market Studies: Various studies and reports conducted by labor market research organizations, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, may offer insights into gender distribution across professions.

Academic Research: Scholarly studies and academic research papers frequently analyze trends in gender representation in specific industries and professions.

Nonprofit Organizations and Advocacy Groups: Organizations focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment often compile and publish data related to women’s participation in different fields.

Media Reports and Articles: News articles and journalistic investigations may include data and statistics on gender representation in various professions, sourced from official reports or research studies.

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