Who was the first British woman police officer?

EDITH SMITH 1880 – 1924

Before World War One there were no women police officers.

In the early months of the war several women volunteers assisted the police force in dealing with refugee women who were exploited and lured into prostitution on the streets of London.

The volunteers were led by two experienced campaigners, Margaret Damer Dawson and Nina Boyle.

Boyle wanted the volunteers to be involved with solving crimes but their role was limited to the supervision of other women and the enforcement of public decency. This was to be achieved by imposing a curfew on women preventing them from meeting up with the opposite sex.

Groups of Women Police Volunteers were organised in several areas to enforce the curfew.

In 1915, in Grantham Lincolnshire, Edith Smith became the first volunteer to be sworn in as a police constable with full powers of arrest. Her job was to stem the tide of prostitution which was sweeping the town as fourteen thousand randy soldiers were billeted nearby.

Edith was well regarded in Grantham as a caring person who tried to discourage promiscuous behaviour without resorting to arrest.

She gave verbal warnings, encouraged the girls to move on elsewhere, cautioned the soldiers and arranged for them to lose some of their pay. But if all else failed arrests were made.

Edith left the police force at the end of the war.

She had worked seven days a week for over two years and the work had taken its toll.

A few years later, in 1924, Edith Smith took her own life.

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