So it's April 1. But it's more than April Fool's Day. It's also the anniversary of America's first policewoman — and no, we're not talking about Angie Dickinson. On April 1, 1908, Lola G. Baldwin was sworn in as a Female Detective in Portland, Ore.
One of Baldwin's main tasks was to look after young women drawn to the city looking for new opportunities.
"Baldwin and her officers policed environments they believed bred corruption, including the many amusement parks, dance halls and saloons around town," according to a piece Oregon Public Broadcasting did on Baldwin in 2008; it's archived on the OPB site.
But it wasn't just a vice unit. According to Gloria Myers' book A Municipal Mother, Baldwin tried to find alternatives for the women caught up in Portland's "urban vice."
Fearing prostitution and disease for the young woman who remained unprotected in the city, 'municipal mothers' like Baldwin sought female-to-female preventive solutions. Social hygienists' insistence that prostitution was a public health problem opened up the legitimate use of the police power to fight urban vice in general, as most forms of it could be linked in some way to the 'oldest profession.'
It seems that Baldwin's arrival on the police force came at a time when Portland was trying to clean itself up, in a general sense. Myers writes that in 1905, the city's mayor was Harry Lane, who had been elected "after Mayor George Williams rebuffed his proposal for a meat inspection code to regulate practices in local packing houses."
A medical doctor, Lane appointed "social hygienists" to key city posts. After being sworn in, Baldwin worked as a police detective until 1922.
In her career, Baldwin helped other cities in Oregon and Washington set up programs similar to the one she created in Portland; she also pushed for equal pay and benefits for female police officers, even after her retirement.
And in 1941, Baldwin wrote a letter to The Oregonian urging the city not to serve hard liquor in its dance halls. She ended that letter with this sentence:
Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Let us not get too modern and too broad, but protect our homes and our young people, for this is a time when clear heads and steady hands are needed.
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