Cleveland’s Police Matrons

The dilemma of how to deal with female prisoners was a problem faced by the Cleveland Police Department back to its earliest days.  In 1879, at the suggestion of Superintendent Schmitt, the Police Commissioners appointed Mrs. Mary Zelhan to search female prisoners, paying her fifty cents a prisoner. Mrs. Zelhan lived with her husband Simon and their children in their saloon, which was adjacent to the Central Station on Champlain St. They lived so close that a suspected burglar escaped from police custody by running through their house.

Mary Zelhan was often called to search women arrested for shoplifting or other crimes and helped with many acts of kindness for women and children in need.  Unfortunately, in 1883 she was “recently stricken down by paralysis.” Local police raised funds to help.  Mary Zelhan passed away on March 26, 1884.

Plain Dealer, March 26, 1884

Plain Dealer, 6/22/1887

Around this same time, the Police Commissioners began and long and often contested debate about formally appointing a Matron to Central Station, much like departments in other major cities across the United States had done.  Despite some public sentiment that “women were not fitted for such duty,” the commission recommended the appointment of a Police Matron. 

However, the formal appointment of police matrons would wait for several more years.  In 1887, the Police Commission accepted nominations from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. But, like much of the city, the women of the WCTU were divided on what the duties for the matron would be – either primarily a “janitress” or a matron dedicated to the well being and spiritual reform of female prisoners. 

A May 22, 1887 article in the Plain Dealer stated that “every woman arrested should be taken to the central station. She should be given into the hands of the matron, she should be searched by her, locked up by her and made presentable to appear in court the next day. These matrons are to a certain extent a protection to the police, for bad women often make accusations against police officers.”

On July 1, 1887, the commission appointed Mrs. Ann Watson and Mrs. M.A. Burke. Increasingly unhappy that their roles were more as cleaners than as reformers, the women resigned by the end of the year. They were replaced by with Mrs. Annie Clark, who had previously “done the washing for the station for a good many years and is highly spoken of by the officers as an industrious, willing woman. She does not object to scrubbing and cleaning and a commissioner stated that if any of the female prisoners need any attention Mrs. Clark would cheerfully give it to her.”

Plain Dealer, 6/8/1887

Plain Dealer, 6/22/1887

In 1893, the State of Ohio enacted a bill “authorizing the appointment in every city of the state having a population of over 25,000 of a police matron, who shall have charge of female prisoners and provides that a station must be designated where all such persons shall be confined. No person under the age of thirty years is eligible to hold the position of matron.” Cleveland Police Chief Henry Hoehn started the Police Matrons Service in 1893, but the first matrons weren’t appointed until the following year.

Plain Dealer, 4/7/1893

In 1894, the department hired Harriet Garfield and Emma Essinger as police matrons originally assigned to the 8th Precinct, but were moved to the Central Station when it was completed. Central Station included special areas dedicated to the Matrons and to female prisoners. These two women were the first official female officers in the Cleveland Police Department.

The following year, the department hired Mrs. Kate Kelly and Mrs. Sarah J. Whittaker to serve as matrons stationed at the 8th precinct, where all female prisoners from the south and west sides of Cleveland could be taken.

Plain Dealer, 1/30/1895

The Police Matron’s provided invaluable service to the department and their charges. Their tradition of service continued, carried on by the female Institutional Guards of the CPD Jail Division, until all jail duties were assumed by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office.

Plain Dealer, 4/15/1917

Some of Cleveland early Police Matron’s included:

Harriet Garfield: who served from 1894 until 1900, was married to Amasa Garfield, a cousin to the President.  Harriet was described as being “as jolly as she is stout and as kind-hearted as she is a good officer.   So well is Mrs. Garfield liked that it is said some of the habitual criminals are glad to be arrested simply to see Mrs. Garfield. Little children picked up in the street are always well cared for by the matron.” Unfortunately, poor health prevented Mrs. Garfield from continuing her work as a matron.

Emma Essinger: served from 1894 until 1897, when she resigned to get married.

Plain Dealer, 3/24/1897

Catherine “Kate” Kelly: served from 1895 until her resignation in 1907. She later worked for the City Infirmary.

Louise Love: served from 1897 until her death in 1919.  Louise replaced Emma Essinger and was described as “the smallest matron in the department.”

Sarah J. Whittaker: served from at least 1900 until her death in 1917 at the age of 55.

CPD Matrons Irene Moran, Alice Weber, Barbara Warsicek and Frances Gahan, 1936.
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