Attitudes to women joining the Police

‘I beg to report that beyond the escort and handling of female prisoners the services of women are not required in the Police Force of this Dominion.

The only good work that, in my opinion Women Police could be employed on is in strictly enforcing the Infants Act and the Industrial Schools Act. At present it takes about two years careful training to make a man proficient in Police duties and about five years training with special ability before he is of any use as a detective.

The greatest difficulty we have in training these men is to teach them how to control their tongue, how long it would take to train women I do not know.

I cannot see how a woman could be usefully employed’ --- Memorandum written to Superintendent John O’Donovan 1916

In June 1941, the first ten women entered a Police training depot in Newtown launching a new era in Policing. Women had been involved with Police work for many years prior to that in various roles, such as Matrons of stations and female searchers who were often just wives supporting their Policemen husbands in rural communities throughout New Zealand.

There was considerable opposition to women being formally appointed as Police Officers until Peter Fraser became Minister in Charge of Police. In 1938, after considerable research by the Police and undoubtedly encouraged by his wife Janet who was an active campaigner for policewomen to be appointed, the Minister Fraser announced:

“I am forced by the facts to a conclusion that I long ago reached in my own mind, that women can be a great help to the Police Force and to society in this country…I am pleased to announce that women police will be appointed as soon as possible.”
Women were to be unmarried or widowed, between 25 and 40 years of age, and meet education and health standards.

The initial training of women was delayed by the outbreak of World War Two.

Early roles for Policewomen saw them working in more traditionally ‘female- oriented’ assignments, working with children, or with women, and working back office roles rather than being on the front line.

To a degree this kind of stereotype was in line with New Zealand society’s positioning of women last century, but was perhaps further exacerbated by the perception of Police work being physical and the fact women could be faced with violent offenders.

It took time and perseverance to begin to overcome the obstacles and barriers facing women in terms of being treated as equals by the public, male colleagues and their superiors.