First Policewoman in Scotland: 100 Years and Counting
This month marks the centenary of the first policewoman appointed in
She was Emily Miller who was appointed to the City of Glasgow police force on 6th September 1915. She
remained Scotland’s only
official policewoman until 1918, when the City of Dundee appointed Mrs Jean Thomson.
The history books and records are often loath to acknowledge these early women were policewomen. Depending on what source you research they can be described as statement takers, court sisters, police sisters, and a variety of other titles. However, the statistics firmly record them as policewomen, as does the Baird Report, an official government review into the employment of women for police duties, which reported in 1920.
The decision to employ women in the police force was made by the Chief Constable of each individual force, therefore
Scotland was no different to England in that respect. However,
the resistance to women was more widespread in Scotland, and in evidence at the
Baird committee in 1920, the Town Clerk of Stirling stated – “We neither need them or want them”.
Glasgow City Police, however, had lost so many men to the Great War, they had to take radical measures. They employed hundreds of temporary constables and increased the numbers of men in the Special Constabulary, and they appointed Emily Miller in September 1915. Miss Miller remained the only policewoman in
until 1918, when Mrs Jean Thomson was employed by the City of Dundee Police. There was actually another woman
employed by the police in 1914, prior to Emily Miller, and that was the Court
Sister in Aberdeen,
whose duties included everything a policewoman might do, however little is
known about her.
The Baird Report into employment of women for police duties, which heard evidence in 1920, is the place to go to find out details of how policewomen were employed and what their experience was. Both Emily Miller and Jean Thomson gave evidence, and it would appear that Miss Miller’s duties involved working with women and children, whereas Mrs Thomson’s role was wider, and it could be said she was the closest thing to a policewoman that
although neither woman had powers of arrest. Women constables would have to
wait until 1924 before they were granted this power.
It took a long time for women to achieve the same status as men in the police force, and initially they were used for work with women and children. The power of arrest, as stated earlier, came in 1924, and few women were employed –
only had eleven policewomen at that time. Promotions were unheard of and it was
1940 before the first woman constable was promoted to Detective Sergeant, and
1954 before there was a Chief Inspector, and 1995 when the first female Chief
Superintendent was appointed, she went on to become the first Assistant Chief
Constable. It was 2008 before Norma Graham became Scotland’s first female Chief
Constable, making it a full 93 years before a woman reached the top of the
The problem with researching the early women police is that records are sparse in
although I believe the London Metropolitan Police have more information in
their archive. Joan Lock, a former policewoman and now a crime writer, used
this archive to write, The British
Policewoman: her story, the book that got me interested in the origins of
women police services in Britain.
The women who joined the police in 1914 and beyond were adventurous, fascinating characters who were not afraid of authority, nor did they take kindly to the taunts they received from the constables of the time. Things like, ‘get back to your washboards’, and much worse. They were dedicated, tough, disciplined women whose training included learning martial arts like ju jitsu, and they ventured into places that many male constables avoided. These women, many of whom have faded into obscurity, were worthy forerunners of today’s modern policewoman.
My own historical crime mystery, The Death Game, was inspired by these women, and because my crime stories are set in Dundee it was fortuitous that the second policewoman in Scotland, Jean Thomson, worked there as a policewoman between 1918 to 1921, The Death Game could be said to have been inspired by her. Naturally, my Kirsty Campbell, bears no resemblance whatsoever to Jean Thomson, but I have given Kirsty the London Women’s Police service training, including the ju jitsu, and then transported her to Dundee.
I enjoyed writing The Death Game, it was great fun, and needless to say it is quite a bit different to my Dundee Crime Series, which is set in modern times. With The Death Game I take my reader on a journey through the shady alleys, shabby streets, creepy cemeteries, and sinister buildings of a long gone
Dundee. And you really should visit my underground morgue
and try to see into the shadows the swinging oil lamps fail to illuminate,
while you listen to the slurp of Davvy’s rubber boots approach from behind.
I think it’s fair to say that this book has a gothic feel to it. And if anyone is interested in the formation of the women’s police service, I’ve included a historical note at the end of the book.