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LAWPOA’s History
Alice Stebbins Wells The First Woman Police Officer in the LAPD

Learn more about LAWPOA’s history and how we are still making a difference today from an article featured in Beyond the Badge.

Women in the LAPD

The LAPD is the birthplace of the first female officer. We have an incredible history of courageous women who triumphed over discrimination. The Los Angeles Police Department was the first in the country to appoint a woman officer with full powers to arrest. In 1910, Alice Stebbins Wells became the first woman police officer in LAPD after campaigning for the inclusion of women in the police force. That year, Mrs. Wells obtained 100 signatures from community members of Los Angeles asking the city council, police commissioner, and the mayor to appoint her as a police officer in LAPD. The petition was successful, and in September of 1910, she became the first woman to serve as an officer with full arrest powers. By 1912, there were three policewomen on the job and three police matrons in the department.

Before this time, many California cities employed women as “matrons” or “workers” since 1890. These employees specialized in the care of female prisoners, along with working in the City and County prisons and other penal institutions.

On the first day of her appointment, Mrs. Wells was furnished with a Gamewell (a telephone call box) key, book of rules, first aid book, and “policeman’s badge.” In those days, an officer was privileged to enjoy free trolley car rides while going to and from work, but when Mrs. Wells displayed her badge, the conductor accused her of misusing her husband’s identity. This was remedied by presenting her with “Policewoman’s Badge Number One.”

Her first duties included supervision and enforcement of laws concerning “dance halls, skating rinks, penny arcades, picture shows, and other similar places of public recreation.” Among her activities were the “suppression of unwholesome billboard displays, searches for missing persons, and the maintenance of a general information bureau for women seeking advice on matters within the scope of police departments.”

While these historical changes were occurring there was still push back against women holding the same powers as men on the police force. In 1925, the City Council proposed civilianizing the policewoman’s position, which meant no retirement plan, training, or uniforms.

Our Purpose:

LAWPOA is committed to strengthen, unite, and raise the capacity of women in policing. Our objective is to see a world where police reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.

LAWPOA History

In 1925 Alice Stebbins Wells and Marguerite Curley co-founded the Los Angeles Policewomen’s Association (LAWPOA) for the few women in law enforcement at that time. Their goal was to provide benefits, respect, appreciation, and a community for female officers. In addition to the Los Angeles Policewomen’s Association, Mrs. Wells also played a key role in organizing the International Policewomen’s Association. Marguerite Curley was voted one of LAWPOA’s first leaders as it grew to become a service and social organization. Twenty-one years later, 19??women became the first trained female police officers in Los Angeles history after graduating from the police academy.

When LAWPOA was first founded in 1925, the women officers were required to be between 30 and 45 years old and have children. Additionally, they were required to have a degree in sociology or nursing because many women were only assigned to juveniles. It was not until 1948 that women wore the standard blue uniforms. Before then, women wore a dress and a badge and could not carry a firearm.

Mrs. Wells fought for the idea that women, as regular members of municipal police departments, were qualified to perform protective and preventive work among juveniles and female criminals. That fight introduces a new concept of women in law enforcement, the cornerstone of women in policing today. She will be remembered for introducing this new concept into local law enforcement. Since her appointment, women were assigned duties in patrol, delinquency prevention, investigation of crimes involving juveniles, and investigation of other cases in which the service of a female officer is deemed necessary. In July 1934, Mrs. Wells was appointed the Los Angeles Police Department Historian, a post she held until her retirement on November 1, 1940. She had been a policewoman for 30 years and was awarded the organization’s highest honor, the Connie Award.

Over the years, as LAPD has gained more women who continue to move higher throughout the ranks, LAWPOA has also continued to grow. The women’s movements in the 1960s and 1970s also allowed for female officers’ continued growth across the country.

Female police officers stand where we are today because of the sacrifices made by the women of yesteryear who stood and demanded to be counted. We celebrate the women of today who are leading in every capacity of both civilian and sworn occupations, mentoring promising new female officers while dutifully serving our diverse communities with the utmost honor and respect. Our future is bright because of the women today who continue that legacy of excellence by shattering “glass ceilings,” breaking stereotypes and confidently moving us forward.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s appreciation for women is evidenced through the continued cultivation of an organizational culture where diversity, equity and inclusion are the norms.

Today, there are over 500 members in LAWPOA and 1,757 female officers in the Los Angeles Police Department. One out of every 9,432 officers in LAPD are women, but the force has a goal to increase this number from 18 percent to 40 percent in the coming years. LAWPOA has extended its reach to focus on providing training, scholarship opportunities, and mentoring for law enforcement professionals. Throughout the decades of women earning their place in law enforcement, LAWPOA has remained a beacon during it all. Remember we have come too far, not to continue…

To the women of this great organization, THANK YOU for your service.

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