100 Years of Women in Policing

On Thursday 9th November 2017, BTP held an event celebrating 100 Years of Women in Policing on the Railways. BTPHG Committee Members John Owen, Ed Thompson and Glyn Thomas –  together with his daughter Bethan, were there to assist with a display.

(Scroll down for a photo gallery of the event)

John Owen reports on how the day progressed:

“The very first female officer was employed by the Great Eastern Railway Company at Liverpool Street Station in London. Margaret Hood was sworn in in May 1917 and she played a key role in apprehending female pickpockets.

The national press at the time called the hiring of the country’s first woman officer as an “interesting experiment”.

A century later BTP are proud to report that this “experiment” was a resounding success.

Earlier this year we in the History Group were invited to meetings to plan for a ‘Celebration’ to mark this auspicious occasion which culminated in an exhibition held at Wood Street, City of London Police Station, on Thursday 9th November 2017. Ed Thompson and John Owen soon became involved in supplying the Force with hundreds of photos and details of the earlier women officers from our archives.

An invitation went out to all serving and retired members of BTP staff and in all about 70 attended the event which was headed up by Detective Superintendent Gill Murray, assisted by serving female members of staff from across the Force.

The History Group put on a display of artefacts, books and photos depicting the more general history of railway, dock and canal policing, whilst the rest of the exhibition concentrated on women in railway policing from the early days right up until modern times. It included photographs from every era and the work of individual officers was portrayed including former policewomen, Kristine Snell (now Hendrickson) and Bobby Kovacs. Kristine, now living in France, kindly loaned us her treasured uniform from the 1970’s, complete with handbag and small truncheon.

There were a number of guest speakers who addressed the gathered audience including Sara Thornton, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), Sophie Linden, London Deputy Mayor for Policing, Charlotte Vitty, Chief Executive of the BT Police Authority (BTPA), Chief Constable Paul Crowther and Detective Superintendent Gill Murray.

Detective Superintendent Gill Murray opened the proceedings by saying the Force couldn’t let this milestone pass us by without celebrating the success of women in policing the railway; it’s been an amazing journey. She went onto to say how policing in general had changed hugely in the past 100 years, but more so for women. From the impractical uniforms, the small batons and handbags to today’s modern uniform and accoutrements. Today women police are involved in every aspect of policing, a far cry from when they were only allowed to deal with children and female offenders.

Chief Constable Paul Crowther praised the work of all the BTP staff and the History Group who had help make the celebration possible. He went onto cite several examples of the achievements of women officers in recent times. The Force has over 1500 females and 75% of police cadets are women. A recent recruit course consisted of 19 females and just 6 men. He said he was proud that the Force had been one of the first to recruit women officers and that the ‘interesting experiment’ depicted by the press in 1917 had turned out to be a resounding success.

Women in the last year had been involved in some of the more notorious events the Force has had to deal with including the terrorist attack in Manchester where the first officer on the scene was a woman officer. The tragic tram crash at Croydon also saw many females deployed.

Sara Thornton, Chair of the NPCC started by wishing BTP ‘A Happy Anniversary’ in this one hundredth celebration. She reminded us that the first railway police officer was recruited two years before the Metropolitan had its first female and two years after Grantham in Lincolnshire. (The City of London Police didn’t recruit its first woman until 1941). Ms Thornton started her career with Thames Valley Police under the Graduate Scheme, she went onto become its Chief Constable before her current appointment. She spoke of her struggles to managing her work life with home life. She recalled taking her sergeant’s exam in hospital the day after giving birth to her first son. Today 27% of Chief Officers in the UK are females and added that we are making progress, but clearly more needs to be done. Her tip for today’s policewomen is to challenge the organisation and ask questions about equality.

Charlotte Vitty, Chief Executive of the BTPA, outlined her career mostly in finance. She started with the Authority three years ago before being appointed to her current role earlier this year. She said she was very pleased when the Female Police Association had asked her to be their ambassador. She added it had meant a huge amount to her and that as she had many people help and support her throughout her career she was only too happy to give this back and help others.

Sophie Linden, London Deputy Mayor, said that there was still a long way to go for women in policing quoting the fact that only 29% of police across the country were females. She thought her generation had made progress in ‘breaking through’ in the work place and spoke of the need to have a shared ambition to achieve equality throughout the work force. It made sense for the community that the police serve. She added that there should be no cap on women’s ambitions and where they can work and serve. Finally, she quoted a saying by the former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women”

The History Group were honoured to have taken part in this celebration and it just goes to show the importance of preserving our history in marking milestones such as this.”


by John Owen
Originally published in the December 2017 edition of History Lines (No. 100)


Photos by Ed Thompson, unless marked.
(Click on images to enlarge)