Rose Constant: Cleveland’s First Female Officer

In 1911, Cleveland City Council appointed widow Rose Constant as the first female Cleveland Police Officer.  She was the second female police officer in the United States, preceded by Mrs. Pauline Christman-Hubbell in Pueblo, Colorado.  Mrs. Constant served as a Sanitation Inspector. She didn’t carry a firearm and had limited arrest powers, but served the city by inspecting the working conditions of thousands of Cleveland’s women.

Mayor Herman Baehr stated that, “as a member of the sanitary police force, she will be in charge of the inspection of factories and stores where women are employed. There are 60,000 women and girls employed in the factories and stores of the city and Mrs. Constant will see that these persons work under sanitary conditions and that their health is conserved…She will act as an inspector, as well as a policeman.”

Rose Constant believed a woman to be well suited for the job, stating “I understand that difficulty was experienced in correcting evils affecting women for the reason that men cannot go among women in their private life in stores and factories. I will go where the men cannot. I will talk on subjects that the men cannot.”

Plain Dealer, Sept 23, 1911

During her tenure, Mrs. Constant found deplorable conditions in many of the factories and stores she inspected.  “One shop in which many young girls were employed had no drinking water at all. If they wished a drink of water they had to go to a saloon below stairs. In many shops there were no separate toilets for the girl employees. Others were small and unspeakably dirty.”

Report of the Sanitary Inspectress from Rose Constant to C.E. Ford, Secretary of the Cleveland Board of Health, dated January 9, 1913. From the collection of the University of Michigan.

Unfortunately, a power struggle between the city and the Board of Health developed immediately after Constant’s appointment.  While appointed by City Council, Constant reported to the Board of Health.  Because they didn’t recognizer her authority as a city employee, the Board ignored her reports and refused to take action against offending business owners. Constant told reporters, “I have been doing real work and I have the support of the women’s organizations…I intend to find out why they are trying to force me out. There is need for the service that I have been performing. More women inspectors are required.”  After several years of very public argument, the City appointed position was eliminated by Mayor Newton D. Baker in 1914.

        Rose Constant died of a heart attack in September, 1936.

Plain Dealer, Sept 23, 1911
Plain Dealer, Sept 24, 1936
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