The four-story brick and stone building at 3735 Cedar Avenue was built in 1912 for the Maternity Hospital of Cleveland. The Maternity Hospital served both indigent and paying patients and depended primarily on private donations for it’s operating funds. In 1925, the Maternity Hospital moved to a new building in University Circle.
That same year, the City of Cleveland started the process of purchasing the old hospital building to serve as “a new detention home for girls and headquarters” for the newly established Women’s Bureau of the Cleveland Police Department. (Women served in the police department starting in 1893 with the creation of the Police Matrons Service. Their role expanded with the creation of the Women’s Bureau in 1924.)
The need for new facilities for both the Women’s Bureau and the female prisoners was dire. At the time, the Plain Dealer lamented, “women prisoners over 18, regardless of offense, are being dumped into quarters at [Champlain Street] Central Police Station that were unfit for use over ten years ago. Girls who may be first offenders are being thrown with women of long police records.” Prisoners faced dark, dreary and wet cells with no pillows, mattresses or blankets. Officer Dorothy Doan Henry, captain of the policewomen, stated that “the new home of the women’s bureau and detention home and the new police station cannot open too soon. In our new women’s bureau home, formerly the old Maternity Hospital, we shall have room for fifty girls and women. They will be largely the first offenders. We shall attempt to segregate prisoners as much as possible.” In 1926, the city purchased the old Maternity Hospital for $51,000.
The 1926 Annual Report for the police department noted, “the Policewomen’s Bureau is now located at 3735 Cedar Avenue, formerly the site of the Maternity Hospital, which building was purchased by the city, remodeled and reconditioned and made possible to care for the numerous complaints regarding women and children referred to this bureau.”
When the Women’s Bureau was temporarily closed in 1932, the building became a tuberculosis convalescence sanatorium. Although the bureau was quickly re-established, it was then headquartered out of the new Central Station at 2001 Payne Avenue. When Eliot Ness reconfigured the department in the 1930s, he replaced the eighteen precincts with five districts. At that time, he planned for the women’s bureau to move into the Fourth Precinct building on E. 55th. However, that plan never came to fruition. In 1938, the women’s bureau returned to the 18th Precinct station house at 3735 Cedar Avenue.
Unfortunately, the 18th precinct building fell into disrepair over the next ten years. In 1953, the women’s bureau headquarters moved to 4150 E. 49th Street, into a building that served a wide variety of purposes over the years for the City of Cleveland.
In the summer of 1956, the Women’s Bureau headquarters moved to the “plush surroundings in the new Second Police District Station” at Daisy Avenue and Fulton Road. They moved into what was originally meant to be a public assembly room, which had beautiful 11 foot tall windows. But those large windows allowed in the relentless sun and heat. The Policewomen resorted to taping old newspapers over the windows until the department purchased blinds to keep out the sun. The Women’s Bureau headquarters remained at the Second District until the unit was disbanded in the early 1970s and women were fully integrated into the force as equal officers.
For more information on women in the Cleveland Police Department: