A century of service by WA policewomen

Western Australia Police

Western Australia Police is this year marking the milestone of 100 Years of Women in Policing.

When Helen Dugdale was appointed as Western Australia’s first female police officer in 1917, the world was at war, it took four months to travel from Australia to London and the electric light switch was newly invented.

In local policing, the then titled State Police Force was emerging from an era under the authority of colonial gentry, and motor transport and fingerprinting were the latest breakthroughs in crime fighting.

A century later, more than 20 per cent of officers serving in the state are female and they stand side-by-side with their male counterparts in the field and are strongly represented at senior ranks and levels.

While in 1984 there were 77 women police officers in Western Australia—by 2017 there were more than 1400. Additionally, there are another 1200 female police staff working across all levels of the agency, representing more 60 per cent of total staff.

One hundred years ago the professional landscape for women was very different.

Two weeks after the appointment of Mrs Dugdale, formerly an inspector with the State Children's Department, Laura Chipper, a rescue home matron, was enrolled as a second Probationary Constable.

Neither received a uniform or any formal training but significantly they did receive equal pay to their male counterparts.

As part of the Women’s Police Unit that was to last another 60 years, their job was to patrol parks, entertainment areas and slum neighbourhoods, and ‘anywhere else that women and children might be found’.

In the years that followed, there were strict age restrictions on females in the force—they had to be trained nurses and were required to resign when they married.

Traditionally carrying a handbag and wearing hats and gloves, women had to wait until the 1970s to be issued with an official WA Police uniform.

The first recruit graduation to include female officers was held in 1976. Those recruits were issued uniforms that included skirts, heels and handbags. It was several more years until female officers were permitted to wear pants.

In celebrating and promoting 100 Years of Women in Policing, WA Police is holding a series of events and activities that provide professional opportunities for female staff, promote WA Police as an equal opportunity employer and demonstrate how far women in WA Police have come over the years.

The centenary will include events in every regional district, a strong contingent of women at this year's Anzac Day march and a Women in the Police pavilion at the Perth Royal Show in September.

For more information on the history of Women in Policing in Western Australia, please visit the WA Police website.