Alice Stebbins Wells – first U.S. woman with arrest powers

Alice Stebbins Wells
Alice Stebbins Wells

Born on June 13, 1873, in Manhattan, Kansas, Alice Stebbins Wells was raised in a family that emphasized education and social reform. After completing her schooling, she attended Oberlin College, where she studied the need for female police officers. Alice then went to the Hartford Theological Seminary, where she learned about the social gospel movement, which emphasized applying Christian ethics to social problems. After the program, she became a minister and social worker.

In 1905, Alice moved to Los Angeles, California, where she continued her social work. However, during this time, she became increasingly aware of the challenges women and children faced in the rapidly growing city. Motivated by a desire to address these issues directly, she saw an opportunity to effect change from within law enforcement. “The woman police officer is a perfectly natural, logical step for our advancement in civilization,” Alice said.

In 1910, Alice made history by becoming the first female police officer in the United States. After taking the position, she was asked, “Did you feel any hesitancy in taking the lead as the first woman policeman?”

Alice replied,
“I belong to a long line of New Englanders, and all of my ancestors have been in the forefront of the reform movements of their day…I intend to use my place for the good of the coming generation.”

As a police officer, Alice focused on addressing the unique needs of women and children in the community. She advocated for establishing a separate division within the Los Angeles Police Department to handle cases involving women and children, recognizing the importance of specialized care and attention.

Alice helped pave the way for accepting and integrating women into law enforcement roles, demonstrating that they could contribute significantly to public safety and community welfare. After retiring from the police force in 1940, Alice stayed involved in various social and civic organizations, advocating for women’s rights and social reform until her passing in 1957.

Notes

Read a snapshot biography of Susanna Madora Salter, who became the first female mayor in the United States when she was elected in Argonia, Kansas, in 1887.

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