Header with a photo of Mari K. Eder on the left, the text "Ret. Major Gen. Mari K. Eder. Author, Speaker, Consultant at Benson's ReView" in the middle. And two book covers (The Girls Who Stepped Out Of Line and The Girls Who Fought Crime) on the right.

National emergencies—wars, disasters, all those things that create sudden change and deep needs—seem to drive progress in many ways.

World War I created industries to make uniforms and manufacture war materials. The need for manpower to build American military units created gaps in critical areas of society. The New York Police Department (NYPD) was one organization that by 1918 was in desperate need of manpower.

It was time to recognize the need for women to serve.

Women had been working in the NYPD since 1891, when the first women were hired. Their job: to care for women and children in police custody, whether as victims or as criminals. They also cleaned the jails and the offices. There were fifty-nine of them on the rolls by 1899, just after the consolidation of the five boroughs into a new and rapidly-growing city.

But the U.S. entry into WWI spurred the hiring of women as ‘emergency policewomen’ in 1918. They were issued shields and revolvers, but not uniforms.

The Police Reserve (both men’s and women’s units) did have uniforms, but they served primarily as an unpaid neighborhood watch group. This is the outfit that Mae Foley first joined, then helped grow.

Some women in the Police Reserve worked in police stations, typing and filing reports, freeing up the men to patrol the streets. Mae had a different assignment with the Reserve. She greatly enjoyed her job as she helped recruit others to the Reserve.

Mae was part of the Broadway Squad, patrolling the streets of the theater district and keeping them safe for theatergoers. Mae made many lifelong friends during her time with the Reserve and was always ready to return there.

Of course, there were detectives nearby to make an arrest if the women spotted any wrongdoing. Several of Mae’s colleagues actually trapped a German spy one day on the subway.

A black and white photograph of a group of women in uniform standing in front of a building.

The Broadway Squad

By the end of the war, more women were appointed as policewomen, and in 1920 the Matron rank was abolished.

Policewomen, now able to vote, were growing in numbers. 

Mae Foley saw the opportunity the changes presented and applied. By 1923 she was selected first from a list of civil service eligibles for appointment as a policewoman.

Mae Foley saw the opportunity the changes presented and applied. By 1923 she was selected first from a list of civil service eligibles for appointment as a policewoman.

A group of training with an officer in front of a building. Handwriting across the top reads "Capt. McKinney & Policewomen."

New Policewomen Join the Ranks

This is comparable to the Women’s Army Corps’ rise in World War II. 

The need for women—in support and administrative—was responsible for their recruitment, again for emergency purposes. 

But by the war’s end, President Truman recognized the significance of their contributions, and women were made a permanent part of the armed forces.

In 1930 the Police Commissioner renamed the NYPD “Women’s Bureau” as the “Policewomen’s Bureau,” with administrative oversight for the assignment of policewomen to various precincts in the city. 

In 1935 NYPD Policewomen were ordered into uniforms. The blue uniform consisted of a skirt, blouse, and garrison cap with NYPD embroidered on the side. This was later replaced with a patch featuring the NYC seal.

Color portrait of Mary Mae Foley in her police dress uniform.

Mae Foley Portrait in Her Uniform

Two months following Mae’s retirement from the force in 1946, the NYPD changed the shield to a new design. 

Mae was proud of her policewoman’s shield. In 1923 she was issued number thirty-one, a low number. She somehow later misplaced that shield and was presented with a new one by her female colleagues at her retirement party. The number of that shield was seventy-three.

In 1973 the NYPD abolished the ranks of “Patrolman” and “Policewoman” in favor of the modern term “Police Officer.” The Women’s Army Corps continued to function until it was abolished in 1978, then women were fully integrated into the Army.

When interviewed late in her career, Mae Foley compared the two organizations, stating that the duties of the women in the NYPD during the first world war were comparable to those of the WACs in World War II.

She knew how a period of rapid change could open doors and drive opportunity. And she was there to take advantage of every chance she could to serve and to advance.

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.

Hardcover edition of "The Girls Who Fought Crime" sitting on a wood desktop with earbuds, a pen, and scissors.

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