In Her Own Words: A History of Policewomen given in 1952, Part 1

Over her forty years with the Cleveland Police, Wilma Neubecker #3002 saw just about everything.  As part of the Women’s Bureau, she worked cases involving juveniles and women that ranged from vagrancy to neglect and abuse. Neubecker rose through the ranks of the Women’s Bureau (which was separate from the rest of the department), becoming the Bureau’s Captain in 1965, a position she held until her retirement in 1971.

In the 1952, then Lieutenant Neubecker gave a speech outlining of the history of the Women’s Bureau up to that point. Her speech offers a glimpse into the early years of women in the Cleveland Police. Below are excerpts from that history.

Wilma Neubecker, #3002

The Beginning

“Looking back over these years it is interesting to see the development of the Bureau. Perhaps you will recall that even before the Bureau itself was established, we did have policewomen in the Department, but they did not work as a unit. In 1921, the Police Ordinance of that day was amended to include the appointment of women at the discretion of the Chief of Police, but it was not until 1923 that four policewomen were appointed after having taken a special Civil Service examination. According to one of the policewomen appointed at that time, “the Department had us but did not know what to do with us.” So they were set to doing regular patrolman’s work within certain limits. They came to work at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and worked until 10 o’clock in the evening. They worked every Sunday and were given a day off during the week. During their first few months they reported to the Chief of Police directly.”

“The policewomen worked quite frequently with the men officers on vice cases, sometimes they were with them on gambling complaints, and often were along on raids on narcotic places.”

“It was no easy job for these first women – this breaking of the way for policewomen to come in the future.”

Dance Hall Days

“Much of the policewomen’s time, however, was spent patrolling the dance halls, like the old Shadyside and Euclid Gardens, and their Sundays particularly were taken up with this. Those were the days of the Bunny Hug and the Bear Dance and the public was being scandalized by the Flapper. The police were concerned with the ages of the girls and boys who attended the dance halls and the positions they used on the dance floor.”

The 1920s

“During this time, activity on the part of social agencies and interested citizens was increasing and through their efforts the City Council in 1924, April 21st to be exact, passed an ordinance creating a Policewomen’s Bureau, and providing for an increased number of women. The ordinance specified, “The purpose of the Women’s Bureau shall be to do preventitve work with women and children and to deal with all cases in which women and children are involved, either as offenders or as victims of offenses. The Women’s Bureau and the members thereof shall be governed by the general police rules of the Division of Police.”

“Miss Dorothy Doan Henry was appointed the first commanding officer of the Women’s Bureau. For several weeks she visited Policewomen’s Bureaus in various parts of the country and when she returned, an office was opened for the Bureau in the Eighth Precinct (ow the 2nd District Headquarters) at W. 29th and Detroit Avenue. The hours were changed and the policewomen worked in two shifts, from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM and from 4 PM to midnight.”

“During the year of 1925, the first year of its existence as a Bureau, the Policewomen’s bureau handled three thousand one hundred and sixty-three cases, (3,163), and average of nearly 10 new cases per day. To those who had worked for the Bureau’s establishment, this was ample justification for their efforts.”

New Women’s Bureau Headquarters

“In 1926, the Women’s Bureau was moved to 3735 Cedar Ave. The building was used not only as offices for the policewomen, but also as a detention home for certain types of women prisoners and for women who came to the Police Department asking for a night’s lodging. Drunken women and prostitutes were still held at Central Police Station, but first offenders, etc. were held here.”

“At the time the Bureau moved to 3735 Cedar Ave. a third shift was added to its working hours. There was now a policewoman on duty twenty-four hours a day, and the Bureau never closed. It has operated on a twenty-four hours a day schedule since that time.”

Women’s Bureau HQ, 18th Precinct, 3735 Cedar

“Complaints came from neighbors, relatives, friends of people, from stores, theatres, schools and from the newspapers. Policewomen worked all over the city, wherever an investigation was to be made. There never were, and still are not now, enough of them to have them assigned to work in specific districts. Then, as now, often emergency calls came in which would necessitate the sending of a policewoman from one end of the city to another to make an unexpected investigation.”

The Depression

“The depression was closing in thickly on all sides, not only on the City government, but on the general public as well.”

“And it was manifested in the complaints which were now received at the Information desk of the Women’s Bureau. Calls came in about families evicted, destitute and starving, these had to be investigated and referred to the proper agency for assistance. On patrol duty in the downtown streets, the policewomen found more children gagging or trying to sell small articles to help family finances. There were more young girls coming in from out of town, from small communities, hoping to find employment in the larger city. These had to be temporarily lodged and later returned to their homes through the efforts of the Traveler’s Aid.

July 11, 1933 Cleveland Plain Dealer

“There were many employers trying to make women employees work long hours for small wages under difficult circumstances. And one of the most vicious results was the unscrupulous type of man who would advertise a position for a young woman. When an attractive young girl would answer the advertisement, the man would take advantage of her desperate need for a job and accompany his offer with humiliating suggestions. It was found necessary to have two policewomen work on labor laws and working conditions of women and children exclusively for several months to try to put some check on the abuses then prevalent.”

“The work of the policewomen changed now somewhat. There was more accent placed on the preventive and protective aspects of their cases. They handled all types of complaints which came to the department involving girls under 18 and boys under 12 years of age, as well as cases of women who were neglecting their children or who needed help of some kind.”

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