Snapshots of a Century of Women In Policing In South Australia

South Australia Police will recognise a significant milestone in history on Tuesday (1 December) with a street parade in Adelaide’s CBD celebrating a century of women in policing.

Road users are advised that rolling road closures will take place as the parade moves from Police Headquarters, 100 Angas Street at 10am around Victoria Square, and down King William St to  Government House (finishing about 11am).

The parade will feature the Band of the South Australia Police, mounted police, present and retired officers, PSOs, ASOs, historic uniforms and vehicles.

This event recognises that on December 1, 1915 South Australia Police appointed its first female officers as equals with their male counterparts. They were the first women police officers commissioned in the then British Empire and among the first in the world.

Miss Kate Cocks and Miss Annie Ross became the first women in Australia to be appointed as police constables. The newspaper advertisement for their job included the requirements that they be “capable of enduring hardship and fatigue in the execution of their duty, of good character and address, and of fair average education.”

In the early days much of the work undertaken by a handful of women police was in the nature of social work, with a report by the SA Historical Society noting that in 1923 they were involved in 43 cases including rape, murder, abortion, abandonment of children, cruelty to children, indecent assault, indecent behaviour, bigamy, idle and disorderly fortune telling, plus thefts committed by women and children.

In 1945 formal training was introduced for women police officers, with new recruits attending the Police Training Depot in Gouger St for several hours a week where they received one-on-one instructions in law, fingerprinting and ju-jitsu.

In the early 1950s women were given driving instructions for the first time at the Thebarton barracks, while the number of women police continue to grow – from 17 in 1953 to 43 by 1965.

By the early 1970s, following an overall structural review of the organisation, decisions were made to employ uniformed police women, the practice of forcing women to leave the job if they got married was abandoned, and women were encouraged to apply to roles outside the Women Police Branch.

According the book “To Walk a Fair Beat”, the first women to work as uniformed police started at Thebarton Barracks in October 1973 and were required to complete the same studies, physical education and driver training as the men.

Although trained to use a firearm, women on mixed patrols were not issued with them; however a change in policy in 1977 saw the issue of firearms to women police involved in patrol duties on their request, although they were instructed not to carry them in their handbags as this presented a security risk.

In 1979 five women participated in a cadet course at the Fort Largs Police Academy for the first time, and also that year Fay Leditschke became SAPOL’s first female Commissioned Officer.

Women now comprise 27 per cent of SAPOL’s sworn staff, up from 22 per cent a decade ago. This represents 1,264 women working across all areas of policing, including the Deputy Police Commissioner and two of the six Assistant Commissioners.

In the lead up to this anniversary, we have been speaking with police women, past and present, for a series of video snapshots reflecting on their careers and experiences.

These are their stories:

Source: South Australia Police.  Licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence. © South Australia Police, Government of South Australia 2014.

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