Arresting Tales

Did the Chicago Police Department hire America's first female cop?

Marie Owens.jpg

According to retired federal agent and history buff Rick Barrett, the answer is yes

For years, U.S. historians have been at odds over the identity of America's first female cop. Was it Alice Stebbins Wells of the Los Angeles Police Department, who petitioned the city to get women on the force? Or Lola G. Baldwin of Portland, Ore., who crusaded for young, single working women and sought to weed out corruption in the city?

Now, a retired federal drug-enforcement agent and history buff from Chicago has come forward with what he says is unequivocal proof that the title actually belongs to Marie Owens, a tall, steely woman who specialized in enforcing the Windy City's child-labour and mandatory-education laws -- and who hailed from Canada.

Rick Barrett says he has spent the last three years combing through Chicago city and Illinois state records, newspaper articles and genealogy documents, to chart the life story of Owens, who grew up in Ottawa, Ont., and then made her way to Chicago where she became a detective sergeant in 1891 -- predating Wells and Baldwin by at least 15 years.

Owens retired in 1923 and died four years later.  Ironically, Owens was the subject of several news accounts while she was still serving, with one newspaper proclaiming her "the only woman police sergeant in the world".  Some time after her death, a historian confused her with a police widow by the same name, and her status as the nation's first female officer was forgotten.

You can read more about Marie Owens here and here.



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1 Comment

Moshucat said:

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Thanks Joe. I read this and was very proud to know Chicago was the first. she seemed to be quite a lady.

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