When Lillian Armfield was recruited into the NSW Police Force in 1915, she signed a contract which stated she was not allowed to wear a uniform, would not receive any superannuation and she would not be entitled to compensation if injured in the line of duty.
In 2015, the NSW Police Force is celebrating 100 years since women were classed as ‘special constables.’
Armfield -- as a special constable -- was given responsibilities largely restricted to the primary functions of traffic direction and the control of juvenile girls. Yet she was often involved with investigations into more serious matters, including crimes such as murder and theft.
According to this extract published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Armfield once found herself in a dangerous situation with a notorious character who was well known to police.
“Although brave, she was also sensible and recognised that discretion could be the better part -- as when she picked up her skirts and ran for her life from ‘Botany Mary’ (a cocaine-runner caught in the act), who came after her with a red hot flat-iron.”
Recruitment for women was a slow process -- by 1921 there were only four female officers. An intake of six new recruits (out of 400 applicants) in February 1941 brought the numbers up to 14.
Pictured here is the entire contingent of female officers in 1938. Sergeant Armfield is seated at the rear.
They formed a squad based at the Criminal Investigation Branch under the command of Sgt Armfield. Interestingly, six of the women were police widows.
It wasn’t until 1965 that policewomen were finally employed on equal footing with their male counterparts following the passing of the NSW Police Regulation Women Police Amendment.
It gave women equality of wages and conditions, as well as full police powers under the law. Their titles also changed from ‘special constable’ to ‘police woman’.
In 1979 policewomen were finally issued with firearms for general use (policemen had been armed on a permanent basis since 1894.)
However, Sgt Armfield had been allowed to carry a pistol since the 1920s.
The first uniforms were issued to policewomen in NSW in 1948 -- it was later modernised in the late 1960s with the shortening of the skirt to above the knee.
In 1972 a new female winter uniform was issued which consisted of a skirt, tailored jacket and hat (which was later nicknamed the ‘Tea Cosy’)
However, the skirts were considered to be too tight, making life difficult for police women on patrol. In the mid-1980s the skirt was phased out and more practical culottes were issued. In the '90s, slacks, trousers and blouses were issued with handy pockets for pens (previously, female officers carried black handbags).
Today, policemen and women wear largely similar uniforms; with the exception of some tailoring adaptations. All operational officers wear the same shirts, cargo pants, boots and baseball caps.
The youngest sworn officer in NSW is a probationary constable, aged 20. There are currently 4542 female sworn officers and 2581 female unsworn officers.
The only specialist operational unit of any size with more females than males is the NSW Police Mounted Police, with 26 of 33 sworn officers being female.