For the past two years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with my new friends, The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line.
Those intrepid women, trailblazers in the World War II years and beyond, kept me company throughout the empty span of the pandemic. I learned their stories, sometimes chafed at the errors mistakenly woven into the public tales of their considerable achievements, and over time, came to feel almost as though I knew them well.
I wrote their collective memoirs throughout those long, silent months of 2020. And then edited it and edited it again.
Their book was released in August of 2021, and I’ve been blessed to be able to talk about these pioneers since, sharing their stories, meeting some of their family members, friends, and neighbors, and finding out more about their challenges, sacrifices, and ultimately their successes.
I was thrilled to meet so many family members whose mothers and grandmothers had served with the renowned all-Black, all-female 6888 Central Postal Directory Battalion.
In New Orleans, I met Major Stephanie Czech’s neighbors and her friends from Alexandria, VA. I spoke with Erin Miller—whose grandmother was also a WASP—and talked with many men and women whose mothers had served as nurses or worked in factories. I was humbled to meet Nicole Spangenberg, who served in the French Resistance, as Virginia Hall had done.
Some folks showed me pictures of their parents during the war and sent me their books, letters, and more.
I’ve been privileged to get to know so many great Americans through this book.
Plus, I’ve come to know the Girl trailblazers even better than I could have imagined.
I’m not going to abandon them now. But I am adding on.
My next book, The Girls Who Fought Crime, will launch soon, and I will start talking about a new group of nearly forgotten trailblazers.
These women joined the New York Police Department at the beginning of the 20th century. The earliest employees were matrons.
They cleaned the jail cells and the precinct houses, then, out of necessity, their duties expanded. They became undercover ‘actors,’ ferreting out criminals by getting to know their friends and lovers and learning all their secrets.
They weren’t police officers yet but began to gain grudging respect as policewomen and even as detectives.
Their roles grew, and their abilities to meet the challenges of policing were tested.
Mary (Mae) Foley was one of these early policewomen. She volunteered during WWI and wanted to continue serving following the war.
She’d come to policing, as many have through the years, from a background in social work. Mae saw her role as a policewoman as protecting the innocent and at-risk, caring for those who needed protection.
She wanted to see justice done.
Mae joined the force full-time in 1923 and served 22 years in uniform (well, once women received uniforms, that is). She was a detective and a fine one at that.
I learned about her peers and colleagues but found that while hundreds of women served with the NYPD before and during the Depression years, there were little in any files to be found about them.
Mae claimed to be the first detective on the force. She was the first to be selected from a civil service list to join the department. Other women also claimed “First.”
They were all firsts in my book.
I hope Mae’s story will shed light on how these pioneers created their own rules and set and exceeded all expectations. I hope many more people tell me about the intrepid policewomen in their family history and share their stories too.
Mae’s book, The Girls Who Fought Crime, will launch on August 8th. I can’t wait to share her story with an audience that will enjoy meeting her just as much as I have.
Pre-orders for The Girls Who Fought Crime are now open!
For fans of Margot Lee Shetterley and Liza Mundy comes an inspiring feminist tale of a woman who dedicated her entire life to the New York Police Department, upending the patriarchy and the status quo for women working in public service.
Mae Foley is proof that women can do anything men can do, all while wearing corsets and the perfect shade of rouge.
Enjoyed this post? Get my newsletter delivered to your inbox so you don’t miss the next one! I send out one mailing a month most months and promise zero spam.