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Our Matrons & Police Women

This article is part of Policing the City of Saint Paul by Edward J. "Ed" Steenberg, Saint Paul Police Historical Society


Please note that as early as 1875 Saint Paul's inadequate jail facilities were the target of frequent police complaint. Chief James King in that year described the wooden lockup as "dilapidated." Asking that it be replaced, he went on to state that "The cells are insecure. I would suggest that at least two of the cells be made of iron. Often a half dozen of the most desperate characters are confined here, and under the circumstances the very strictest watch is necessary to prevent their escape." Because the jail lacked separate cells for female prisoners, women were held at the Home of the Good Shepherd, a local refuge on Wilkin Street run by Catholic nuns and designated a penal institution for female defendants by the city council.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd had begun their work in an eight room cottage at Smith Avenue and Seventh Street in 1868, under an arrangement with the police department "to accept and hopefully to rehabilitate female offenders rather than sentencing them to serve time in the common jail." They counseled girls for "general incorrigibility"; shoplifting, truancy and runaway. Said to be the oldest such institution in Minnesota, the home moved to a huge red brick sanctuary in 1887 at 931 Blair Avenue, between Victoria and Milton Streets. No longer used as a female reformatory by the city, it is now located in the north suburbs near North Oaks and continues to work with females in need.

The first state reform school also opened up in Saint Paul in 1868, on the grounds of present-day Concordia College. As with the cottage run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd for the city, the State Reform School utilized "matrons" in their staffing needs.

From 1881 to 1960 a city (later county) workhouse was located on 40 acres of land in the present Como Park. The workhouse was erected there, "out in the woods," far beyond residential development. Departmental records indicate that a permanent city workhouse was completed in about 1883, with enough room for 350 prisoners in 158 cells, one of the largest such institutions in the region. "At the workhouse a superintendent and a matron, a doctor and a secretary, were continually kept busy. Their charges were largely supposed to plow the ground and grade the avenues around Como…" In addition to working in the park and operating a 20-acre farm on the workhouse grounds, inmates toiled in the workhouse's broom factory, shoe shop and tailor shop, and did other heavy labor.

One of the early matrons of the City Workhouse, Miss Theresa Walsh, was born in the city of Dublin, Ireland, in 1836. At fifteen years of age she accompanied her parents to the United States and to Saint Paul. She received her appointment as matron in April of 1896. A report of the city comptroller indicates Miss Walsh's salary at that time was $30 a month, less than half the wages of a patrolman conducting similar duties.

Over the years, records indicate that some twenty police matrons were hired by the department, being assigned to the Central Station lockup and/or the City Workhouse. As Ramsey County took over the responsibility of such facilities, many of the matrons were reassigned to county employment, although some were upgraded to policewomen status and stayed with the police department. One of the early police matrons hired and working out of the Central Station lockup was Hattie A. Walker. She was appointed matron on May 24, 1893, after working for four years (1889-1893) at the Stillwater State Prison. Mrs. Walker resigned on June 25, 1894. Reports from the city comptroller indicate that Mrs. Walker earned $50 a month.

The official report of Chief Michael N. Goss for the year ending December 31, 1898 included his urgent recommendation that a new Central Station and lockup, with modern improvements, located near the city hall and courthouse be provided. "The all too frequent escapes from cells at the present one should be conclusive evidence that a new building is badly needed. There is a constant demand for more room and it seems especially necessary that quarters be provided for the police matron, Mrs. [Bridget] Cummings, who is now available only if at home when called. She occupies a flat of rooms immediately adjacent to headquarters together with her four children, and receives a salary of $50 a month." It should be noted that Bridget Cummings, the matron of the Central Station lockup was the widow of Michael J. Cummings. She was a native of Saint Paul and was appointed matron May 15, 1892, but resigned during the next year, and was reappointed in1894.

In 1913, Saint Paul added the first functional policewomen to the force. At the time, many people, especially women's organizations, were concerned about the welfare of the city's women and children. They also were aware that other police departments around the country had added women. As a result, Margaret Kelly and Minnie Moore were appointed to the Saint Paul Police Department on January 1, 1913.

Officially, Kelly and Moore received the title of Police Inspector but were called Policewomen. While exploring the role of women in police work, Saint Paul solicited a legal opinion in 1912. The city attorney responded, "Women, while having the right to vote for school and library offices, and to hold such offices, are not legal voters as that term is used in the statutes. Women therefore are not eligible to hold public office of policeman, patrolman, or detective or any other office of a similar nature with authority to make arrests." Even so, Kelly and Moore performed their jobs with determined professionalism. During Margaret Kelly's first year, she chased women and children out of saloons, monitored proper behavior in dance halls and reported on scandalous movies in the new theaters. Kelly also visited area schools hotels, factories and hospitals, always checking on the welfare of women and children. Kelly and Moore were so successful in their first year that more women were hired by the Department, paving the way for all future policewomen. Minnie Hessian was hired on January 1, 1914 and Mary A. Smith also became a policewoman ten years later. The ratification of the Woman Suffrage Amendment on August 18, 1920 finally enabled them to become authoritative sworn officers. Both Minnie Moore and Minnie Hessian later went on to become the supervisor of the Policewomen Unit. Women did not serve in large number, however, until the 1970s.

RULES AND REGULATIONS
BUREAU OF POLICE
1923

MATRONS

P. 101 Matrons shall report for duty at the hours designated by the Chief of Police and shall not leave their quarters unless properly relieved.
P. 102 The Matron on duty shall have charge of all women and girls received at the station as prisoners or otherwise, and also of lost children.
P. 103 While on duty, the Matron shall be constantly at the Matron's headquarters and ready at all times to perform any and all services within her province as Police Matron (Matrons shall at all times when on duty be subject to the orders of the officer in command), except when necessary to leave on police business, and she shall never take the keys of the Matron's Quarters away with her.
P. 104 When the examination of the person or clothing of a female prisoner or other female in temporary charge of the police shall be deemed necessary, such examination shall be made by the Matron on duty, under the direction of the officer in command, and with the least publicity.
P. 105 When a female prisoner is held, she shall be conducted to a cell by or in the presence of the Matron and remain in her charge while so confined.
P. 106 The Matron shall not place two females in one cell unless it is necessary for want of space.
P. 107 Any sick, injured, or helpless female who may be conveyed to the station shall be taken to the Matron's quarters.
P. 108 Officers are prohibited from visiting the cells in which female prisoners are confined, except upon the call of a Matron, or by special direction of the officer in command, and no officer or other person shall visit the cells in which female prisoners are confined unless in company of the Matron on duty.
P. 109 Members of the police force are prohibited from trespassing upon the privacy of the Matrons during their tours of duty. The Matrons shall be held responsible for the cleanliness and good order of their quarters.
P. 110 The Matron should endeavor to familiarize herself with names and countenances, and when being relieved from duty, impart all information of any importance, which may have come to her knowledge about any prisoner and all orders received, to the relieving Matron.
P. 111 The Matron on duty shall visit the cells occupied by female prisoners as often as practicable and her other duties permit, and shall be responsible for the safe keeping of all such female prisoners subject to the direction of the officer in command.
P. 112 Matrons shall transmit all requests of prisoners for attorneys and similar requests to the commanding officer of the station for disposition.

POLICEWOMEN

P. 113 The primary purpose of the policewomen is the safeguarding of women and children and the prevention of crime; also, to keep juveniles out of Court; to keep their names clear; to steer them in the right direction and to establish proper church connections, friendships and positions.
P. 114 It shall be the duty of the policewomen to look after delinquent and wayward girls and women. Also, to investigate dance halls, streets and all places of public amusement where the young congregate from time to time. Also, to investigate home conditions and to endeavor at all times to establish home life on the proper basis.

On July 17, 1961, Carolen F. Bailey was hired as a policewoman, joining Graciela M. Flores, who had been hired on July 13, 1953, and Dorthymay (Thimell) Freischel, hired on October 1, 1954. Although Flores and Freischel were assigned to work in traditional female police areas, Bailey spent many years as an investigator in the Sex/Homicide Unit. None of them worked on the streets of Saint Paul in uniform… at that time. The three were promoted to policewoman sergeant on December 25, 1971, and Bailey went on to be promoted to the standard police lieutenant classification on May 26, 1985. Her first assignment was as Team Commander, a uniformed position. Bailey broke the glass ceiling within the department benefiting all future women police officers. Records indicate that at least a dozen females were hired as policewomen in the department from those first hires of Kelly and Moore in 1913, through that of Bailey in 1961.

In 1974, the department received a federal grant to fund an experiment to evaluate how females performed on the street when relegated the same duties as their male counterparts. The women were to be assigned to regular district squads in pairs and were expected to carry identical call loads as male officers. On September 8, 1975 Deborah L. Montgomery became the first female "Police Officer" hired and trained in the department through the traditional police academy process. She succeeded in performing the duties of her male counterparts and set the precedent for women seeking police officer careers in the Saint Paul Police Department. No more Matrons! No more Police Women! Today, there are over 100 female sworn officers working the streets of Saint Paul.