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Women in policing

100 Years of Women in Policing

On 28 July 1917, Victoria Police employed our first women as 'agents' – Madge Connor and Elizabeth Beers. In July 2017 this milestone was commemorated.

Victoria Police Museum presented a major exhibition to celebrate of 100 years of women in Victoria Police. The exhibition explored major breakthroughs and landmark events within Victoria Police, through the context of social changes and mile-stones in the wider community.

Through a series of stories, the exhibition highlighted the struggles and discrimination women faced and how this has shaped equality and diversity in Victoria Police today.

Key historical figures

Madge Connor

Connor was the first of two policewomen 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 policewomen 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 policewomen 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 policewomen. 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 policewomen'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 policewomen had increased to thirty-four, a reorganisation 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.

Major moments

The fight for policewomen

Key political figures that had earlier pushed for women's suffrage began to fight for the employment of female police officers. The National Council of Women and the Women's Political Association (including famous suffragette and women's rights activist Vida Goldstein) agitated for female police officers. The issue was debated in parliament and several deputations of women paid visits to the Chief Commissioner and major Victorian politicians. It took several years of campaigning.

The first policewomen

The first policewomen were 'sworn in' on 28 July, 1917. They received 90 pounds a year in pay, and contrary to newspaper reports at the time, wore no uniform and had no powers of arrest.

The first two women were Madge Connor and Elizabeth Beers and were employed as 'police agents'. Elizabeth Beers soon retired and was replaced by Nell Davison, a staunch Salvation Army member.

Women had been working with Victoria Police prior to this, as 'undercover agents' used to gather information. Ellen Cook and Jessie Clarey later joined.

First swearing in

The four policewomen we at last sworn in in 1924, 7 years after the first was employed, with the same pay and rights as policemen. They did not, however, receive overtime or necessarily equal pay for equal work. They also wore no uniform, so had to pay for a level of clothing deemed acceptable for policewomen.

World War II

In WWII a large segment of the police-force left to fight overseas. Victoria Police, like many other major organisations (including the Army) called for an 'Auxiliary force' of women to fill their places.

Over the course of the war, and for some years after, Victoria Police employed over 200 Auxiliary policewomen. The Auxiliary policewomen were not sworn police, however they were given a uniform before policewomen.

The 1970s and '80s

Social movements championing women's rights began to have an impact on the makeup of Victoria Police. More women began to join, and more women pushed for diverse roles. The 70s and 80s saw a major change in the sort of work women did in the police force.

Equal Opportunity Act

The Equal Opportunity Act was implemented within Victoria Police in 1978. The Act removed separate seniority lists and the identification of policewomen on their caps by a PW badge. It also removed the marriage bar (married women were able to join, and single women were able to remain after marriage). Women transferred into general duties. Women were to receive the same training (including self-defence and pistol training) and were officially able to carry handcuffs, batons and guns.

Timeline of major events


Madge Connor and Elizabeth Beers appointed as agents


Sergeant Fran Corrie is the first to qualify as an air observer with the Air Wing.

Anne Cursio becomes first women to be awarded the Queens Gallantry Medal


Number of policewomen increases to four. Policewomen are sworn in with same pay and rights as policemen (although did not necessarily receive equal pay for equal work, and were not paid for overtime)


Equal Opportunity Act comes into effect (policewomen begin to transfer to general duties policing)


The number of policewomen doubles to eight


policewomen are able to apply for handcuffs and batons


Women's Auxillary Force appoints women as drivers, clerks and receptionist during WWII
First all-female squad: the largest single increase in PW numbers so far


Pants introduced into policewomen's uniform


Katherine Mackay promoted to Senior Constable (most senior woman to date)


policewomen's division abolished.

Joan Notting first woman appointed officer in charge of police station


A uniform for policewomen introduced (23 years after first appointment)


Margaret or Catherine McVeigh becomes first police woman in Victoria promoted to rank of Superintendent


Elva Carr proves women capable of more than welfare work when she organises the first female Street patrol


Angela Rose Taylor first police woman murdered on duty (Russell St Bombings)
First female Aboriginal Police member - Tarina Martyn


Grace Brebner appointed to CIB


First group of female PSOs appointed


Grace Brebner becomes first female Detective in Australia


Bernice Masterson is first female Assistant Commissioner in Victoria Police
Heather Morris becomes the first police woman to become an operational solo motor cycle rider


Kath Mackay first woman to become Sergeant


Jenny Wiltshire becomes the first police woman permanently placed in the homicide squad (Jenny Wiltshire)


Five policewomen are the first females to attend Vehicle Safety Testing School


The Past and Present Women Police Association formed


Women take the first three places (dux, second and third) amongst graduate recruits


First Vietnamese born woman to join Victoria Police. (Penelope Palmer) Studied at Monash, including a paper on relationship between Vietnamese community and VP.

Rebecca Caskey is the first woman to join the Search and Rescue Squad


Carol Baker first woman to undergo police driver training course


Jocelyn O'Brien and Kathryn Joyce first women in Dog Squad

Rebecca Caskey is first female SAR


Grace Brebner becomes the first police woman in Vic to reach Inspector rank


Nixon first female Chief Commissioner of Police in Australia

Senior Sergeant Robyne McGowan is appointed officer in charge of Moreland Traffic Management Unit, ahead of 16 other candidates. She is the first female to head a TMUI

Detective Sergeant Deb Bennet becomes Australia's only qualified criminal profiler employed to work in behavioural analysis


(Dec) Requirement for female police recruits to be single is abolished. Marcia R Caulfield becomes the first married woman to graduate. (Later went on to become Australia's first fully trained hostage negotiator - trained in the US)


Natalie Cale first woman appointed to a one-man (now one person) police station.


Grace Brebner first police woman in Vic to receive Queens Police Medal


Constable Ezo Girgin is Victoria's first police woman who is Muslim


Sharon Armfield and Marilyn Cooke become the first women in Mounted branch


Constable Melissa Jardine wins an award for outstanding achievement in completing a 20 week Vietnamese language course as part of the Victoria Police Multicultural Commission.

Jennifer Locke wins International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators Police Officer of the Year award for the Australian southern region, for her work on Operation Tesla.


Bernice Masterson becomes the first woman to dux Detective Training school

Reviewed 02 December 2022


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