Message from the Chief Commissioner

100 Years of Women In Policing

Release date: Wed 2 August 2017

Last updated: Wed 2 August 2017

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100 Years of Women In Policing 


Key historical figures

Madge Connor
Connor was the first of two police women selected in July 1917, on half the pay of a policeman, with no powers of arrest or rights to a pension. They did not wear uniforms. In 1922 she helped in undercover surveillance of a witness in the case against Colin Campbell Ross. Quickly accumulating commendations for her work, she was stationed at Russell Street and Fitzroy for most of her career. As early as 1920 Connor led deputations of female police and watch-house matrons to the chief secretary, arguing for an increase in their salaries. She described the often distasteful duties they had to undertake for seventeen shillings and sixpence per week. Successful in obtaining a small increase, Connor made further representations in 1923. In 1924, Because of a technicality in the police seniority system, she lost her place as 'senior in service', becoming 'junior in number'. She continued to bring petty criminals, fortune-tellers and bookmakers before the courts until she was forced to retire on 14 November, 1929. Ineligible for a police pension, having not completed the necessary fifteen years as a sworn officer, Connor operated as a private detective.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography

Jessie Clarey
The fourth police woman, Jessie Clarey won the King's Gold Medal - an essay competition open to the police forces of the British Empire - in 1939 for her essay on the causes and treatments of youth crime. She was the first woman and the first Australian to win the prize. She had taken leave from work to secretly pen the essay.

Grace Brebner
Brebner applied in 1939 after reading a newspaper advertisement. She remarked there was a waiting list of 300 women and she had to wait 3.5 years. She was the 14th woman inducted overall- at the time of her joining there were 8 police women in the force. In her first two years she was commended alongside 2 constables for work resulting in a conviction for a man for offences against the Black Marketing Act. In April 1945 she was commended with 5 other police women for having 'successfully cleared up a bad case of murder'. In 1950, Grace Brebner was appointed to the Criminal Investigation Branch and one year later became the first female detective in Australia after being first police woman to qualify at the Detective Training School. She was second in the class: only 1.5 points behind the dux. In 1956 transferred back to Women Police Division in 1956 as Sub-Office-in-charge. Brebner noted that police cars were spare and not able to be used by police-women. She sought out procedures for a police driving licence and applied for the test. She later discovered the examiner had been told to 'fail her if you can - we don't want any women driving our bloody cars'. She passed. In 1971 she became the first police woman in Vic to reach Inspector rank. Two years later she became the first police woman in Vic to receive Queens Police Medal.

Kath Mackay
On 27 April 1922 Kath joined the motor registration branch of the Victorian Public Service as a typist and stenographer; later that year she moved to the Victoria Police and worked in the chief commissioner's office. On 15 April 1930 she became one of eight serving police women. Initially assigned to the plain clothes branch, by 1935 she was attached to the Criminal Investigation Branch at Russell Street headquarters.
In June 1943 Mackay was promoted senior constable and given charge of the police women's section which operated from Russell Street. Although Mackay's role and function were largely restricted to welfare and domestic issues, and to cases involving women, she received official commendations in April 1942 for her part in the conviction of a man for incest and in April 1945 for helping to solve a murder case. She was regarded by her superiors as 'well conducted, efficient and reliable'.

Having passed the required examinations, Mackay was eligible for promotion to sergeant in 1953, however Victorian police hierarchy was unwilling to give a female authority over male colleagues. When two men were promoted ahead of her, Mackay appealed to the Police Classification Board. In March 1954 the case was dismissed on the ground that a sergeant in charge of a station might be expected to fulfil duties for which the board felt that Mackay was unfitted. The Police Association suggested that, since the number of police women had increased to thirty-four, a reorganization of the women's section of the Victoria Police was overdue. This proposal was implemented in 1956, providing the opportunity to make Mackay a sergeant. On 22 August that year she became the first woman in Victoria to achieve such rank when she was appointed officer-in-charge of the new Women Police Branch.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography

Margaret McVeigh
McVeigh joined the police force at the age of 24 after serving in the RAAF. One of the first duties she was required to perform after graduating in 1956 was crowd control at the Melbourne Olympic Games. McVeigh was known as a trailblazer for women in policing, rising meteorically through the ranks. At retirement, McVeigh held the rank of Chief Superintendent - the first woman to hold this rank.








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