Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
Alice Stebbins Wells was the first American-born police officer in the United States. She was not the first police woman in the United States, as that milestone belongs to a Canadian born woman named Marie Owens and was hired as a police woman in Chicago in 1891. Another woman, Lola Greene Baldwin was hired by the Portland, Oregon Police Department in 1901, to “perform police services” but was never sworn in as a police officer.
Alice Wells was born in Manhattan, Kansas in 1873. Formerly a minister in Kansas, Alice Wells moved to Los Angeles, California and eventually petitioned the mayor, the police commissioner and the city council to hire her as a police officer so that women and children who were victims of crimes, could be better helped. She was sworn in as a police officer in the LAPD on September 12, 1910 and was issued a police call box, a first aid book and a police rule book. She was also given a police woman's badge with the number "one" on it. Wells also sewed her own police uniform and it became the first uniform for policewomen. It consisted of a floor length dress and a jacket. Two years after her joining the force, the LAPD hired two more women.
Alice Wells would also go on to become the founder and president of the International Policewoman's Association in 1915. She would travel all over North America to promote the need for women in law enforcement. Two years after being on the force, two more policewomen were hired by the LAPD.
The hiring of Alice Wells as a policewoman put her in the national spotlight. In 1914, a biographical film called The Policewoman was made wherein Alice Wells was the subject. In 1918, the University of California had created the first course in their curriculum, devoted to the work of policewomen.
In 1928, Alice Wells was elected as the first president of the Women's Peace Officers Association of California. Thanks to her hard work and dedication, she was appointed as LAPD historian and by 1937, there were 39 women hired by the LAPD as policewomen. Wells remained the LAPD historian until she retired from the force in 1940 at the age of 67.
Alice Wells died in 1957 and at her funeral were high ranking officials from the department and a ten woman honor guard. Alice Wells truly made a difference in law enforcement and she will always be remembered for her hard work and dedication.