Women in Law Enforcement

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Women in Law Enforcement Women began working in law enforcement in America as early as the 1840s. How long does it take to make significant progress in a career field to be given more responsibility, to be promoted for good performance, to be entrusted with the same duties as others in the same job? For female police officers, who had to battle their way toward some appearance of equality with their male counterparts in uniforms, it was a long wait well over a hundred years. As early as the 1840s, when six prison matrons were appointed in New York City to watch over women inmates at the city prison and on Blackwell’s Island (later known as Roosevelt Island), in the East River, women in law enforcement were only grudgingly allowed to serve in cities across the nation. They had to fight repeatedly for the right to patrol the streets. Their early responsibilities were limited to enforcing laws in dance halls, skating rinks, pool halls, movie theaters, and other places of amusement frequented by women and children. City governments, in police departments, and among the public over whether female officer should be allowed to wear uniforms, carry weapons, be given arrest authority, or earn promotion to higher rank. However, much of the resistance to handing women law enforcement powers arose from the traditional understanding of the female role in American society. Historian Nell Irwin Painter has noted that, during the mid-1800s and beyond, “women were said to be the weaker, sex whose especial duty was the creation of an orderly and harmonious private sphere for husbands and children. Respectable women, ‘true women,’ did not participate in debates on public issues and did not attract attention to them. Although a growing number of women were entering the workforce by 1900, some 21 percent of women over 16 years of age had jobs they usually became teachers,
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