Women in Law Enforcement Timeline
Laminated Advertisement, ca. 1930s
Ephemera: Laminated Ad, Victor Lundeen & Co. Printers and Stationers, woman in shorts, ca. 1930s. 2007.114.43. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.
Women in law enforcement were not always accepted into this historically male-dominated profession. This advertisement depicting a woman dressed in an atypical and risqué “law enforcement” uniform is very different than the way policewomen really looked and dressed in the 1930s and 40s. This ad conveys some of the challenges women had to overcome in order to be taken seriously and be treated with respect at many points in the history of U.S. law enforcement’s development.
Here’s an example of a woman in law enforcement in the 1930s who faced criticism because of her gender. In 1933, Lillian Holley was appointed Sheriff of Lake County (IN) after her husband, Sheriff Roy Holley, was shot and killed in the line of duty by a suspect.
Holley was the first and only female sheriff in Lake County and served for two years. She became famous when gangster John Dillinger escaped from the county jail under her watch. After Dillinger's escape, Chicago Crime Commissioner Frank J. Loesch said, "That's what might be expected of having a woman for sheriff." Holley once said, "I'm not a sissy. I can take it on the chin. But I feel that I am getting the blame for this just because I am a woman.“
On March 7, 1934, the Tulsa Daily World described Holley as an excellent markswoman who said as she strapped on her revolvers, "If I ever see John Dillinger again, I'll shoot him dead with my own pistol."