Revealed: Birmingham's first police woman
West Midlands Police has revealed fascinating details this week about its very first female constable, who was based in Birmingham.
The information comes as the second series of the popular TV drama, WPC 56 is shown this week. The fictional drama focuses on a woman police officer and is set in 1950s Birmingham.
But records show that life policing the second city was in fact very different for Evelyn Miles, who was the first woman constable to join Birmingham City Police in 1917 at the age of fifty.
Evelyn was only appointed as a police officer following an increase in the number of women prisoners in Birmingham due to worldwide events.
Before 1916, there weren’t any women police officers in the region at all, but the outbreak of the First World War saw over 50% of the City’s male population leave.
This led to many more women being employed in local factories and for the first time earning their own money. This in turn led to an increase in the number of women being arrested for drunk and disorderly offences. It became necessary for the force to employ two women as matrons, whose job it was to look after female prisoners in police cells and take them to court.
One of these women was Evelyn Miles.
Force historian Dave Cross said: “Evelyn was married to a police officer who had been taken ill and the Chief Constable at the time, Sir Charles Haughton Rafter, offered her a matron’s job.
He added: “Sir Charles became one of the first Chief Constables to employ women in the service and in June 1917 Evelyn was made a constable.”
Over the following years the policewomen’s department grew and Evelyn became sergeant in charge of the unit.
Their duties included dealing with cases involving women and children, sexual assaults, obscene language and shoplifting. By 1935 there were a total of 17 women officers in the department including uniform and plain clothes officers.
Dave added: “The department was very strict. Until 1931 Birmingham only recruited unmarried women with a minimum starting age of 45 so having children/courting wouldn’t be an issue.
“There was no formal training in place for women and they did not have power of arrest. It was not until October 1933 that women officers were given the power of arrest.”
He added: “Strict rules about bringing the force into disrepute, one woman seen entering her home with a gentleman by a male sergeant who reported her.
Policewomen were discouraged from having relationships inside and outside of the job.”
One of Evelyn’s colleagues was Catherine Downey who joined Birmingham City Police in 1918 aged 48. Catherine was due to retire in 1940, but the outbreak of the Second World War meant she was asked to carry on working. There is a record of a letter she wrote in 1943 to the Chief Constable asking for permission to retire after she was struggling to walk her beat aged over 73 years! Catherine Downey remains the force’s oldest serving police officer.
Evelyn worked as a police officer in the city until she retired in 1939 aged 72. She died aged 80.
In 1968 the policewomen’s department ceased and women became involved in more equal duties in the Force.
Today West Midlands Police has 2,150 female police officers, the highest ranking being Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Sharon Rowe.