Based on hundreds of hours of research, a retired federal agent reported this week that Chicago can lay claim to the country’s first female cop: Marie Owens, who joined the Police Department in 1891. Apparently this was common knowledge more than a hundred years ago, at least among newspaper readers. The Minneapolis Tribune reports:

CHICAGO WOMAN
POLICE SERGEANT

Mrs. Marie Owens Has a Regular
Rating on the Payroll of
the Force.

PROTECTS CHILDREN

Clothed with Authority to Enforce
Orders Led to Her Being
Made an Officer.

 
CHICAGO, Aug. 20. – “Sergeant No. 97,” a handsome, gentle-voiced, dark-eyed woman – Mrs. Marie Owens in private life – is rated on the payroll of the Chicago police force. And “Sergeant No. 97” is said to be the only woman police sergeant in the world.
 
Back of her unusual distinction lies an interesting story of a woman’s fitness for unaccustomed work.
 
When the older Harrison was mayor, in 1889 five women were appointed as health officers to look after the sanitary conditions and environments of women and children working in the large stores and factories. Mrs. Owens, one of these, had been recently left a widow with five children to support. Never before, as she herself says, had she “earned a penny.” But she set to work with a vim that soon placed her in the front rank. She displayed such zeal in behalf of the child toilers of Chicago together with such tact that she speedily won recognition as a power in industrial circles.
 
Mrs. Owens was asked to take special charge of the complaints coming to the health department in regard to children under 14 years of age working in the factories. The law forbidding child labor had long lain dormant; it was deemed necessary to have police authority back of the woman official, who might find it difficult otherwise to obtain obedience to her commands.
 
 
  A detail from an illustration that accompanied a profile of Marie Owens in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1904.
So Mrs. Owens became “Sergeant No. 97,” with the salary and rating of a special policeman. As a member of this department the wearing of “plain clothes” was allowed her, so no suggestion of uniform has ever been adopted. Even the star, while always somewhere about her person, is seldom displayed by Mrs. Owens unless this becomes necessary. Tactful, persuasive, able to see both sides of a difficult case, the “friendly policeman” rarely finds it necessary to fall back upon the police department. Her kind heart and pleasant ways usually win her cause.
 
“Sure, she doesn’t have to make arrests,” explains an admiring fellow officer of the opposite sex, “all she has to do is to smile on people, and she’s got her way.”
 
“Oh, yes, Mrs. Owens is qualified to make arrests and perform all the duties of a patrolman,” says Lieut. Andrew Rohan, to who Mrs. Owens reports on pay day. “In fact, she is a patrolman, gets the salary, has the rank, and all.”
 
All over the city this work takes “Sergeant No. 97,” from all parts of the working world come requests for her assistance, complaints for her investigation. She does her work in her own way, being responsible to no one so long as it is effectively performed, because she has long since proved her ability.
 
“Carried over,” because of her peculiar fitness, when civil service rules went into effect, Mrs. Owens has always been retained on the police force instead of being offered a position as factory, tenement, or child labor inspector. But the civil service rules no making provision for similar trained effort on the part of other women, will prevent the appointment of more women patrolmen. Mrs. Owens will undoubtedly remain as she has been for fifteen years, the only woman policeman in the world.
 
STILL WORKS FOR CHILDREN.
 
The little children for whose sake she labored so hard in the beginning have grown up since her appointment, the youngest being now 17. But the devoted mother works on just as hard for the sake of other little children and struggling parents who need her friendship and assistance, and she will probably continue to do this as long as her health allows her.
 
“The court of final resort” would suit Mrs. Owens and her work well as her official rating. To her come the distressed employe and the worried employer, each confident that she will be able to find some way out of the difficulties that beset them.
 
Many of the troubles and trials growing out of the determined enforcement of the child labor law were long ago settled in some fashion, but of late a new crop has been engendered by the law forbidding boys and girls between 14 and 16 years of age to work more than eight hours daily. Sometimes when the youthful worker is nearing the higher age limit it is difficult to persuade him or his employer that the law must be obeyed. Sometimes real hardships would seem to result from too rigid enforcement of laws in themselves admirable. Many times selfish or ambitious parents will desire the children to work with no good reason. Now and then an employer will seek to evade the law.
 
But kind-hearted tact seldom fails to adjust matters. “Sergeant No. 97” never invokes the strong arm that is back of her unless gentler methods have been proved inefficient. The child who is being forced to work too soon for selfish reasons goes back to school in a hurry. The delinquent employer receives a second warning, so framed that he dare not disobey it. And for the other cases, the cases of temporary childish work induced for “starvation reasons,” well – “one must think a little, must use common sense,” says Mrs. Owens.
 
Never in her fifteen years of police experience has “Sergeant No. 97” found it necessary to come to a direct clash with an employer; never has she made an enemy of a child or parent, although thousands of both have found themselves compelled to bond their will to hers.
 
The working children of Chicago – for whose helping and benefit she has inaugurated many reforms – regard Mrs. Owens as a good friend and comrade, coming to her with all sorts of troubles. The working girls and women love her no less.