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October 2018 - Women in the Police Department


As the women's movement grew in the 1960s and 1970s, women in Seattle city government were fighting for access to jobs that were traditionally given only to men. Records from the Civil Service Commission in the early 1970s provide an example of this fight within the Police Department.

Police Chief George Tielsch wrote to the Commission in November 1971 asking for two promotional examinations to be scheduled, one for a Policewoman Sergeant and one for a Police Sergeant. He went on:

Two separate examinations are requested because the hazardous duty requirements for the majority of police lieutenant and sergeant positions make it completely inappropriate to considering assigning women to duties for which they are neither physically, psychologically nor emotionally capable of performing. Such duties are: round-the-clock, seven-day a week control of beat areas in the investigation of homicides, sexual assaults and armed robberies; as command officers in riot and crowd control; and participation in prisoner control and physical drill routines.

It is the immediate intent of this Department to establish a career ladder for policewomen to the ranks of sergeant and lieutenant. This will require establishing a specific number of assignments which can be handled by a woman. Areas under consideration for the assignment of policewomen supervisors are as follows: Personnel Division, Research and Development Division, Community Relations Division, Information Division, Internal Investigations Division, and Juvenile Control Division.

It is not my intention to assign policewomen supervisors to function in command positions within line units. Contrary to those who advocate increased responsibilities for women, it is fairly obvious that policewomen are not yet ready to lead officers into battle on this city's streets. However, policewomen can function quite well in those staff and service related areas mentioned above and it is my intention to limit them to such assignments.

Mildred Henry, director of the Women's Division of the Office of Human Resources, wrote to the Commission the following May to protest the sex-segregated exams. Henry wrote, "We feel that a police-woman who meets the minimum qualification" should be entitled to take the exam and earn promotion, given that "neither the position for police-officer or police-sergeant is classified as a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification" - i.e., being male was not a necessary requirement to do the job successfully. She also pointed out that the sergeant position as advertised "appears to be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act...and the State of Washington's Revised Code 49.60.180...and City Ordinance 100642."

In 2014, 42 years after Henry's protest, Seattle appointed its first female police chief.