Women’s Journey into Policing
Cori Slaughter, Inspector (retired)
In examining the role of women in the annals of the administration of law, one cannot overlook the
impact of women gaining entry into the profession of law enforcement. This paper will analyze
conflicting debates over internal and external factors surrounding women in policing, from both
socio-economic and political perspectives. The chronicle of policewomen in the Ottawa Police Service
will serve to illustrate this analysis from a local point of view. The rationale behind the choice of discussing the part
played by women in law enforcement was two-fold: the unique obstacles they have faced during the
past one hundred years, and a vested interest in female recruitment and retention.
The advent of professional police, introduced by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, envisaged a vocation
exclusively geared to the male domain. Urbanization, social unrest and increasing violence in England
brought about the implementation of a para-military structure to maintain peace and order. In a highly
patriarchal society, where women’s crimes were predominately related to prostitution or
reproduction, there seemed to be no apparent need for representation by women in the field of
enforcement. Reminiscent of the notion of Marxist hegemony, “Eisentein (1981) sees patriarchy as a
political system of control that serves the purpose of the capitalist economic system. By controlling the
reproduction powers of women, men essentially ensure a control over the labour force” (Comeau,
1990:11). Less than twenty years later, however, changes to the penal system led to the realization
that women may have a place in assisting with incarcerated females. The first female appointment in
the United States into the newly formed New York Police Force was in 1845. This individual was
hired as a matron, with no arrest powers and no uniform (Ford, 1997).
The British National Council of Women had an impact on the hiring of females in the enforcement
arena when they condemned the conditions of detention facilities following arrests of suffragettes
during anti-war protests. The group demanded that women officers be appointed to serve as
custodians. It is an intriguing dichotomy to note that while pursuing the dawn of gender equality,
special concessions were necessary to imprison the founders of the movement.
The appointment of Alice Stebbins of Los Angeles in 1910 marked the commencement of arrest
authority for policewomen (Comeau, 1990). The Ottawa Police hired Florence Campbell in 1913,
the first policewoman with full arrest powers although she did not have a uniform, badge or weapon.
Her duties primarily involved court responsibilities for women prisoners and investigating child abuse
and neglect. Florence retired after twenty-one years of service in 1935. It is interesting to note that
Florence, like many of her successors, was not permitted to marry while employed as a
policewoman. Upon her resignation, she married a former Ottawa Police Inspector. Her position was
subsequently abolished, bringing criticism from several local women’s organizations. The Chief of
Police and Board of Commissioners concluded that policewoman Campbell’s duties were of a “social
nature”. Pressure to hire policewomen continued from local advocate groups, citing that “experience
has shown that women police are needed not so much to detect crime as to undertake a program for
the prevention of crime and for the protection of women and girls” (Larochelle, 1994: 108). This
statement captures the early 1900s sentiment that women were less than effective in what was
perceived to be a highly investigative-driven occupation. Consistent with this view, women were seen
as nurturers, relegated to subordinate roles in policing, such as social and youth workers, for several
decades (Ford, 1997). Indeed, crime prevention was one area in which female officers would
dominate for the duration of the century, although not always by choice. Dr. L. Higgins (1961) stated,
“As far back as 1928, in discussing the effectiveness of police women, Louis Brownlow made these
The effective policewoman is not a maudlin and sentimental creature who weeps public tears over the
downfall of some innocent maiden who has been cruelly deceived by a villain. She knows that girls
and boys are affected by their environment… How to improve that environment and make better
home and community atmosphere for growing children, is the task of the policewoman.”
Only minor changes occurred in the employment of these women, as evidenced by the appointment of
Alice Goyette as Ottawa’s second policewoman. She was selected from a pool of thirteen applicants
in 1936. Unlike Florence, she was required to undergo a probationary period of six months. Although
she was permanently appointed, neither her name nor that of any other policewoman was listed on the
Ottawa Police roster for many years to come. The third policewoman, Edna Harry, was appointed in
1946, following ten years of extensive lobbying by the Ottawa Council of Women for a second
policewoman position. Edna was the first to wear a uniform, consisting of a blouse, skirt and cape,
which was issued to her in 1950 (Larochelle, 1997: 133).
Women of the Sixties
The industrial world moved into the 1960s with a view to a more egalitarian society. In her
assessment of trends in the employment of women police, Dr. Higgins addressed role provisos of the
time: “Both men and women police officers it should be emphasized, have their proper role, and it is
obvious that routine police work is principally a man’s job… The apprehension of most adult male
criminals, who make up by far the largest proportion of the criminal population, is properly a man’s
work” (1961: 90). The institution of policing remained a male bastion as the number of policewomen
remained below 1% across the continent. Larochelle (:172) states that in Ottawa, Chief of Police
Axcell submitted a 1960 report in which he proposed the formation of a squad of female police
officers to enforce parking regulations, asserting:
A trained police officer is wasted on parking enforcement when there are so many other ways his
training and experience could be applied. Furthermore, as these men are subjected to continual
abuse, the work is distasteful to them, so much so that several men have resigned rather than continue
Employment of these women would release 25 trained men for other more important duties.
Twenty six ‘Meter Maids’, including Jeanette (Jan) Dumais, Jacqueline Hudon, Katherine McCabe
and Francoise Proulx, were hired under a separate Women’s Auxiliary Division and sworn in on May
13th, 1960. Their request to be called ‘policewomen’ was denied as they were not considered equal
to their male ‘constable’ counterparts (:171), despite the same training, arrest powers and recruitment
standards (except for height and weight). The women were not issued handcuffs or firearms. Stringent
rules such as automatic dismissal for pregnancy or marriage were enforced and the women were not
permitted to fraternize with the male officers (Dumais).
Corporations proposed gender-neutral programs to address rising concerns over human rights in the
1970s, but it wasn’t until legislation was introduced spearheading anti-discriminatory practices in
workplace employment, that any effect was felt within the enforcement community.
The primary external factors for police departments to hire female officers were policies such as the
Canadian Human Rights Act 1977, the US Civil Rights Amendments 1972, and the Great Britain Sex
Discrimination Act 1975. However, even by 1980 the female to male officer ratio had climbed to only
2% (Murphy, 1992). This illustrated the fact that more than legislation was required to have an
impact. Perhaps the problem was not solely political or societal in nature. Those who had entered the
male preserve of policing reported more insidious, internal barriers. Comeau (:3) observes that
women in the occupation soon found that male colleagues held substantial animosity against them, due
both to their gender and the threat they posed to the masculine image of the police tradition. One
female RCMP member stated:
Somewhere along the line someone forgot to tell us in training that it was not the public we had to
worry about, it was our own members we had to fear. If more of us knew then that we would not be
greeted with open arms, perhaps, we would have been more prepared (Stark, 1988: 63).
Larochelle noted that the “Meter Maids” of the Ottawa Police were adversely affected when in 1973
new standards for police rank structures were introduced. In order to remain on strength with the
service, the women would have to undergo basic recruit training at Ontario Police College. Only a
few remained. Those who passed their training were then assigned to clerical work. None were
permitted to undertake regular patrol duties.
Dumais recounted that just prior to the women being deployed to Police College, the reigning Chief
Seguin suggested that they resign from the Women’s Division and be absorbed as civilian members.
Undaunted, the seven remaining females approached the Ottawa Police Association to present their
case. Shortly afterward, the title of policewoman was dropped and the women who remained
became known as constables, and at long last, were issued with firearms and related equipment.
“External forces, such as intervention by federal governments and women’s groups, to enhance the
recruitment of female officers served, in fact, to deter the process. The existing legislation was
interpreted with great latitude by police management. No real efforts were made to encourage
females to apply. Unchecked systemic barriers, including height and weight restrictions, difficult
physical standards, lack of accommodation for locker facilities, washrooms, and uniforms, still
existed. Pregnancy and maternity leave concerns were not considered, all contributing to a serious
lack of applicants” (Ford, 1997:21).
In 1979, a female submitted an application for the position of police constable with the Ottawa
Police. She did not meet the physical requirement of 5’10” and 160 pounds. Upon rejection, she took
the case to the Ontario Human Rights Commission where a Board of Inquiry ordered the Ottawa
Police to modify the physical standards to accommodate women (Forcese, 1992:149). This did not
seriously impact the hiring standards until provincial employment equity legislation prevailed upon the
police services across Ontario to reflect the communities in which they served by increasing the
number of female and visible minority officers. Chief Brian Ford noted that by February of 1989, the
number of female officers in the Ottawa Police had crept up to 3.8% (:11).
Perceived hindrances to policewomen included lack of physical strength, the presumption of
emotional instability as well as, general unsuitability to the job demands of patrol duties and a
predilection by supervisors to place females in limited positions within the organizations. As a result of
these internal barriers, many myths are perpetuated which ultimately segregate women from their
peers. Professor Linden (1984:73) validates this statement:
“Women are seen as having been imposed on police departments by outside forces and are not seen
as having been brought into general police work because they can add something to the job. The
introduction of women means his working environment has become more complicated, he is afraid
that his workload may increase if women cannot handle their share of the load, he no longer has as
much faith in the ability of potential back-up units, the image of the job has been diminished and his
wife is upset because he might have to spend time working with female officers”.
By the 1990s, court challenges attacked the height and weight restrictions of hiring officers (Colfer v.
Seguin 1979, S.C.C.) and legislative external pressures had caused police services across the country
to reconsider their male traditions. Obvious systemic barriers were slowly being addressed such as
accommodations for females, legislation for parental and maternity leave, and a gradual increase in the
number of women engaged in general patrol duties. Great efforts were being made to increase the
police community presence to reflect the population they served under the Police Services Act,
proclaimed in 1991. By February 1992, Ottawa Police had 41 female officers, totalling 7% of the
uniform strength (Ford :11). Ford also addressed the concern that the Act’s regulations for
employment equity were presupposing that no barriers existed in relation to the recruitment process
for Ontario’s services. The aspirations of the NDP government to have police services climb to fifty
percent representation by women was questionable (:7-8), given attrition rates and hiring freezes.
A further blow was dealt to equality when the newly elected Ontario Conservative party announced
the Job Quotas Repeal Act of 1995. This Bill repealed both the Employment Equity Act and
regulations for the Police Services Act, which related to employment equity.
Although many of the external barriers had been addressed, Chief Ford recognized that internal
systems were still existent, such as promotional processes which emphasized a male-dominant
subculture. It has long been recognized that police management prefer to train males on the basis that
male officers tend to remain in the occupation longer than women. This covert selection criterion has
influenced the promotional advancement of female officers substantially. Gail Walker, in her Status of
Women in Policing Report (1993) noted that over 95% of females were at the constable level
compared to under 70% of males. She identified several reasons for this phenomenon:
over-representation of women in areas such as youth crime, school resources, crime prevention and
community services; a reduction in the amount of general patrol experience which has been a
prerequisite to promotion; the reputation of being less of an investment due to higher attrition rates; a
lack of female role models or mentors, and highly subjective promotional procedures which have
historically been exclusive to the ‘old boys network’. Promotions for female officers are rarely seen as
deserving, primarily due to the rationale that they haven’t ‘done their time’ in patrol. In the Ottawa
Police, these promotions were infrequent.
Ford identified that during the 1989 to1991 period, 55 officers were promoted, 4 of whom were
female, representing a ratio of 7.3%. During the employment equity legislation in 1992 to 1994, 50
officers were promoted including 11 females, representing an impressive 22% ratio. This tripling of
statistics gives credence to the external impact of equity legislation, although the 1999 promotional
statistics were lower, with 3 of 30 promotions to sergeant awarded to female officers, translating to
10% (Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police, 2000).
Comeau found that female attrition within police organizations was influenced by three primary
factors; marriage, societal expectations of women as homemakers and primary caretakers within the
family unit and unsuitability or inability to perform related duties. In assessing the perceived lack of
career commitment, Linden (1984:15) states:
“A second reason is the feeling that women are not committed to policing as a career. It is felt that
women will only stay on the job until they find a husband and have children. Because of this it is felt
that women will not have the same commitment to doing a good job as will males”.
In addition to family-related concerns, one of the main reasons cited for leaving policing was sexual
harassment, which females within non-traditional roles are loath to report primarily due to fear of
reprisal. Another prevalent theme in attrition rates was that women do not feel accepted in the role of
police officer and that supervisors did not accept them (Ford :23).
Women within policing as a career have tendencies to adopt coping strategies, which vary from
overachievement to underachievement. Close scrutiny by male peers at the outset of their careers
causes many female officers to react by remaining as invisible as possible within their rank. This
perpetuates the stereotypical notion that women ‘can’t cut it’ and are not suited to the job functions.
Those who pursue the opposite track very often find themselves ostracized to an even greater degree.
Females who have risen to the higher ranks have often been reputed to have done so through their
associations rather than merit. These strategies exacerbate isolation in the workplace and ultimately
cause higher attrition rates. Policewomen tend not to form close alliances with one another in order to
avoid speculation that gender solidarity is occurring.
Despite the fact that Ottawa Police hired over 100 policewomen during the sixties, only a select few
continued on. After thirty-seven years of service, Constable Jackie Hudon retired in October of
1997. She left the organization as the longest serving officer.
Still employed by Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police, Jan Dumais manages and operates the Printing
Services as a civilian after thirteen years as one of the original 60s policewomen. In a recent interview,
she stated: “The biggest thrill of my career was shaking the hand of a female Police Chief at last year’s
Ontario Women in Law Enforcement Conference. I never thought I would see that day in my lifetime”
(Dumais: Apr. 6/00).
Hiring in the ’90s
Chief (retired) Brian Ford’s study of The Impact of Employment Equity revealed significant findings
in relation to hiring practices within the local Police Service. He compared two specific recruitment
periods; pre-employment equity legislation, 1989-1991 and the height of employment equity,
1992-1994. He determined that during the first period, 32.8% of officers hired were women (20 of
61) while during the later, the number climbed to 46.7% (14 of 30 officers were female).
Undoubtedly, employment equity legislation had a profound impact on women gaining entry into the
police community. Since the 1995 Job Quotas Repeal Act, however, the numbers have dropped
substantially. Between 1996 and March 2000, the recently amalgamated Ottawa-Carleton Regional
Police Service has hired 49 females from a total of 213 officers, representing only 23% of the
Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Service.
The historical journey of women into the realm of policing over the past century depicts a portrait of
societal change, political interventions and patriarchal constraints. From the nineteenth century
matrons, through the groundbreaking efforts of the policewomen of the sixties to the millenium’s
blue-line sisters, the road has been daunting. Policewomen still face isolation within their ranks. Still
considered members of a non-traditional occupation, they must adopt strategies to cope with public
stereotypical assumptions as well as interagency confines. Despite the fact that external restraints had
been temporarily ameliorated through affirmative action and employment equity legislation, they were
short-lived. Systemic internal barriers abound, preserving the traditional male domain. Policing is still
known as a ‘brotherhood’, good guys versus bad guys, the blue bastion, – terms which clearly
illustrate enduring patriarchal structures which preclude equal representation by women. Under the
administration of law, womens’ involvement within enforcement has been glacial. Perhaps the next
millenium will embrace the entrenchment of female officers in the police culture.
The author, Cori Slaughter, highly endorses policing as a career for women. Following seven years of
military service and five years as owner/operator of a large fitness franchise, Sergeant Slaughter found
policing to be a natural progression and a very rewarding career choice. She has thoroughly enjoyed her
tenure with the Ottawa Police Service – and was one of the three women promoted from Constable to Sergeant
in 1999. She retired in 2018 as a Patrol Staff Sergeant and served with the RCMP Air Services Branch for 2 years,
as second retirement in 2021 as an Inspector with the United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin Aboriginal Police Service (UCCM APS).
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