LAPD honors pioneering female officer Alice Stebbins Wells

Police Magazine
Sep 14, 2010

Alice Stebbins Wells, the LAPD's first female officer and one of the first in the country with arrest powers.

Alice Stebbins Wells, the LAPD's first female officer and one of the first in the country with arrest powers. (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Police Historical Society)

On the centennial of her hiring as one of the nation's first working policewomen, Alice Stebbins Wells received a tribute from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Wells was one of the first female officers in the country with arrest powers when she joined the department on Sept. 12, 1910. On Monday, the LAPD hosted a luncheon to pay tribute to Wells.

"A lot of them were being brought in to deal with women and children to handle the problems that women were raising in the community and to try to keep them on the straight and narrow," Asstant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur tells POLICE Magazine. "Many of them had to design their role in policing."

Wells' grandson made an appearance at the luncheon, along with 14 active and retired LAPD policewomen, who wore the uniforms female officers wore between 1910 and the present.

Prior to Wells entering the force, in 1909, she had petitioned Mayor George Alexander and the City Council to establish a Los Angeles policewoman. On the first day of her appointment, Wells was issued a telephone call box key, a book of rules, a first-aid book and a policeman's badge.

"When Alice came on she had full police powers but not a gun," MacArthur said. "Talk about blazing a trail, but not being given the tools. Nor did she have partners. She was out there on her own blazing through uncharted territory."

Wells was eventually issued Policewoman's Badge Number One. Her first duties included the "suppression of unwholesome billboard displays, searches for missing persons and the maintenance of a general information bureau for women seeking advice on matters within the scope of police departments," according to the LAPD website.

While Wells paved the way for more female officers in the LAPD, there were other barriers. In the 1950s, the City Council intervened, appointing several female officers as sergeants.

Today, females make up 19 percent of the department.

Recruiting female officers can be a challenge for the deparment, according to MacArthur, due to the physical aspects of police work. Yet, the department has hosted several recruiting events for women that have been well attended. Female officers explain their work to dispell the mystique of the job.

Wells' start with the department was well chronicled in the local newspapers at the time, the Los Angeles Times reports.

PHOTO GALLERY: "Pioneering Women of the LAPD"