100 years of women in the police: Forces have changed along with society

Helen Angus, who served as a policewomen in Grangemouth from 1959 to 1964, joins serving officers PC Kirstine Gibbs (left) PC Sarah Norton. Picture: Michael Gillen
Helen Angus, who served as a policewomen in Grangemouth from 1959 to 1964, joins serving officers PC Kirstine Gibbs (left) PC Sarah Norton. Picture: Michael Gillen
  • Event held to mark 100 years of women serving in the police
  • Role of policewomen has evolved considerably since 1915
  • Women were required to leave the force upon marriage until 1968
  • Around 40 per cent of police recruits in Scotland now female

When Helen Angus joined the police in 1959 and was posted to Grangemouth’s Old Town she did not view herself as a trailblazer.

Women had been serving in constabularies north and south of the border since 1915 and had become a common sight in streets across the country.

A policewomen's standard issue uniform from 1989

A policewomen's standard issue uniform from 1989

But while they had become valued members of the thin blue line, there were certain aspects of policing that remained off-limits to ladies.

They were not allowed to patrol after dark due to safety fears, for example, and could not become full members of the Criminal Investigation or dog-handling departments.

Helen, known as Lena, quit the former Stirling and Clackmannan Police Force in 1964, not because she didn’t enjoy the job - but because she was getting married.

The marriage rule was eventually scrapped in 1968 but remains a vivid reminder of how attitudes to women in the workplace have evolved in the last half-century.

Society, and policing, limited women in ways that are really unthinkable now

Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick

Lena, who grew up in Methil, Fife, recalled her time as an officer in Grangemouth fondly at an event last week at Forth Valley College’s Falkirk campus to mark 100 years of women in the police.

“I enjoyed helping people,” she said. “I was friendly to people, and they were friendly back. The police were treated with nothing but respect - there’s not the same respect now as I had in my day.”

Lena was joined by more than a dozen serving Police Scotland officers of all ranks and departments at the event. The most senior was Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick, who is in charge of local policing.

“Society, and policing, limited women in ways that are really unthinkable now,” she said.

Male and female police uniforms have changed considerably since the 1980s

Male and female police uniforms have changed considerably since the 1980s

“The days when, in order to be accepted for jobs in marine, public order, roads or firearms policing, women had to mimic male behaviour and refrain from challenging the status quo to get the positions they so passionately wanted, are long gone.

“Today, male or female, we can all be our own selves and our best selves.

“But you will never hear me, or anyone else here I hope, speaking disrespectfully of the old women’s department, when officers were only allowed to work with women and children. They did really important work and they did wholeheartedly and to the best of their ability.

“Police officers today will know they were keeping the most vulnerable people in our society safe.”

It was when Great Britain was locked in the First World War that women were first recruited as bobbies on the beat. In 1915, Emily Miller joined City of Glasgow Police and Jean Thomas joined Dundee City Police.

While largely accepted during the war years - women were filling a variety of traditionally male jobs as men were called to fight - it proved controversial in peace time.

In 1922, following weeks of press speculation, the Chief Constable of Dundee City was forced to publicly deny he had a woman working as a constable.

The officer was being economical with the truth. There was indeed a female constable serving at that time, although it would be another two years before her or other women coppers were granted full power of arrest.

Today, around 40 per cent of all new recruits to the national Police Scotland constabulary are female, representing a significant increase compared 20 or 30 years ago.

Detetive Sergeant Michelle Findlay (40), who is based at Larbert Police Office, joined the former Central Scotland Police in 2000 aged 23.

A former prison officer, she had the kind of ‘life experience’ that is valued in new recruits.

“You don’t need a degree to join the police,” she said. “What we are looking for is life experience, common sense and the motivation to make the most of yourself.”

DS Findlay was the first member of her family to joint the police and admits that some were surprised at her career choice at first.

“It came from no where, although I was a prison officer, I felt that I needed something different to challenge me,” she added.

“Although there was not many female officers when I joined, I have seen a significant increase.

“It’s a varied career, as you can see from those here today. We have women involved in all aspects of policing, from varied backgrounds.

“I’ve worked in CID, public protection, intelligence, I’ve been seconded to the Scottish Government and worked in response policing. There’s a lot of specialist roles if you want to go down that route.”

She continued: “What I think is important to say is that we work in a supportive environment.

“If you show you’re interested in doing something in the police you will be encouraged. It was more challenging for women 100 years ago, but today it is about promoting how police is today and how supportive our colleagues are.”