Women As First Responders
As we continue our National Women’s Month series, we will take a look at the brave lives of women as first responders. Below is a list of brave souls that deserve recognition.
Georgia Ann Hill Robinson was the first Black female appointed as an officer by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1916. It has been said that she was possibly the first woman in the country.
Robinson was born Georgia Ann Hill in Opelousas, Louisiana on May 12, 1879. When she was 18, she moved to Kansas where she met her husband Morgan Robinson. She worked as a governess. Later she and her husband would move to Leadville, Colorado, and then Los Angeles, California, where they settled.
Robinson served in many organizations and was soon asked if she would join the LAPD. After much convincing, she obliged and worked as a volunteer, starting July 25, 1916. Three years later, she was hired as a jail matron and was soon promoted to juvenile and homicide investigator. It was in this position that she saw the need for a women’s shelter and helped found the Sojourner Truth Home.
Robinson served 12 years in the police force. Her career ended suddenly after an accident, causing her to go blind. But she remained in high spirits, living with no regrets, as she continued serving her community. She lived to the tender age of 82.
Alice Stebbins Wells was the first policewoman authorized to make arrests. She was born in Manhattan, Kansas on June 13, 1873, and started her career as a minister and social welfare worker. She studied theology and criminology at Hartford Seminary. Wells served as a pastor in Perry, Oklahoma from 1903 to 1906. She was later appointed as an officer to the Los Angeles Police Department in 1910. This was achieved after she petitioned for women’s inclusion in the police force. She had a vision that would allow women to work in roles other than matrons for women and juvenile facilities. Wells acquired a petition signed by 100 Los Angeles citizens asking the mayor to appoint her as an officer in May 1910. She was later permitted to the police department in September 1910.
Although Wells was given the opportunity, she was assigned to practical or ordinary tasks including supervising skating rinks, dance halls, and movie theaters. She was not authorized to carry any type of weapon or wear a uniform, but it was a start. She would later continue her work as organizing campaigns to increase the number of female officers in different cities.
Furthermore, she established the International Association of Policewomen in 1915. She traveled and gave lectures as to why policewomen are needed to improve the welfare of the community. In the mid-1920s, more than a dozen U.S. cities began hiring female police officers. In 1925 Wells organized the Los Angeles Policewomen’s Association. Then, in 1928, she started the Women Peace Officers Association of California. After serving 30 years, Wells retired but continued giving lectures. She was appointed as the Los Angeles Police Department historian in 1934.
Have you ever wondered who the first female firefighter was? Well, we did, and we pay homage to the valorous and compassionate Molly Williams. Molly Williams was a slave owned by Benjamin Aymar. Aymar volunteered as a firefighter with Oceanus Engine Co. 11 in Lower Manhattan, New York, and would take Williams with him. Some sources say Williams was also the firehouse cook while tending to Aymar.
In 1818, a blizzard hit the city, and soon after there was an influenza outbreak, attacking all male volunteers. But that did not stop fire calls from coming in. Molly was the only able and willing-bodied person to step up to the task. When a call came in, with her checkered apron and calico dress on, Williams hauled out a water pumper to pump by hand.
Williams would be the only female firefighter for the next 164 years. Women becoming firefighters did not receive any attention until Brenda Berkman led a group of 40 plus women in a landmark discrimination lawsuit in 1982.
Brave, outspoken, and unapologetic female pioneer, Brenda Berkman, closes our list of female first responders. Berkman was born October 19, 1951, in Minneapolis, Indiana. She quickly learned as a child that there is a gender preference for favoring boys over girls. Her application to Little League was denied because of her gender.
As she grew up, this treatment only added fuel to her flames, guiding her to attend law school in New York City. In 1977, during her third year in law school, the New York City Firefighter Department announced women could take an exam to become firefighters. Berkman passed the written portion of the exam with flying colors. But along with 89 other women, she failed the physical portion. The physical exam is said to have been made intentionally difficult to keep women out of the department. This, once again, only added fuel to her flames.
Berkman asked for a fairer test, but after being ignored, she filed and won a lawsuit against the City of New York. The standards of the physical exam were changed and Berkman, along with 40 other women, entered the fire academy in 1982. She founded the United Women Firefighters that same year.
Brenda made great contributions to the United States throughout her career, but one thing she is most noted for now is her work during 911. Berkman, along with other women, did not receive the honor and recognition they deserved when the planes first hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. She was off duty at the time but did not bat an eye before she ran to help, upon receiving the news.
We honor Berkman and the dozens upon dozens of other women who were overlooked for their bravery on that day and every day before and after. Thank you.
This is why we honor women and other groups who are far too many times overlooked for their contributions due to their gender, race, and preferences. The female first responders listed above are not even a fraction of the women who are constantly overlooked. We pay homage to you, and we thank you.
Happy National Women’s Month