LAUREL – In the 1950s, the city of Laurel had a shortage of police officers, and the chief made a bold decision: hiring five women to fill the roles. Now, in 2017, the city is honoring the trailblazing women. A plaque dedicated to the women was unveiled at a ceremony held Monday and will be […]
LAUREL – In the 1950s, the city of Laurel had a shortage of police officers, and the chief made a bold decision: hiring five women to fill the roles.
Now, in 2017, the city is honoring the trailblazing women. A plaque dedicated to the women was unveiled at a ceremony held Monday and will be prominently displayed in the lobby of the Partnership Activity Center at police headquarters.
“Laurel’s first were trailblazers for today’s women officers, laying a foundation for others to follow,” Laurel Mayor Craig Moe said. “I’m honored to stand before you as we remember these five women and say thank you to the family members.”
The plaque reads, “In Memory of the First Female Officers of the Laurel Police Department (LPD)… Paving the way for future female officers.” Also inscribed on it are the current and historic patches of the LPD and the city’s seal, as well as the officers’ names.
Officers Gladys Allen, Marjorie Hagan, Clara Tester, Rose Mary Walker and Mary Wesley signed on as volunteer crossing guards in 1953. George Barkman, then-chief of the Laurel Police Department, soon added parking enforcement to their list of duties. When several of their male colleagues left the force, the women paid for police courses at the University of Maryland out of their own pockets and were rewarded with full police powers, including the ability to make arrests and to carry a firearm. They worked on cases involving juveniles, arson investigations and liquor law violations until 1955.
“I’m not old enough to remember the ‘50s, but I’m sure these were not compliant prisoners and people that they dealt with,” Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin said.
The women were paid just 85 cents per hour, but McLaughlin said they consistently went “above and beyond” their prescribed duties.
“Chief (Jack) Larrimore, Chief Barkman’s successor, at a city county budget meeting, ‘praised the women for the caliber of work which they performed and the amount of work they did for the force on their own time,’” Moe said, quoting from a newspaper article published at the time. Larrimore also called them “efficient officers.”
Today, many female officers work at the department, in roles ranging from investigators to supervisors. They carry on the legacy of the first five, Moe said.
The story of the five trailblazing women was brought to McLaughlin’s attention by Laurel resident Max Wesley, who is a descendent of two of the officers. Other members of the women’s families were also in attendance at the unveiling of the plaque, and several spoke about how much having the city recognize their relative meant to them.
“I’m sure the 1950s were not times like now, so to be a woman and to have those duties and walk around in a suit that maybe you’re not always respected for because maybe it’s not your place, is just a show of how strong and dedicated they were,” said Tori Wesley, the great-granddaughter of Mary Wesley. “It’s truly an honor to have this plaque.”