Smith, Edith (C1880-1924) – UK’s first official policewoman

Edith Smith (C1880-1924)

EDITH Smith, the first official police woman in the British Isles, was sworn in at Grantham Police Station in the Guildhall in November 1915 to deal with prostitutes, female witnesses and children.

Edith, who lived in Rutland Street was given the powers of arrest as a result of a meeting at which Commandant Damer Dawson read a report of activities in Grantham and the Bishop of Grantham declared that policewomen deserved national support. Dawson had run a volunteer service but Smith was the first to receive pay. Once established, she earned £2 a week.

Permission for the appointment was granted by the Town Council and Watch Committee and Edith was sent to London for three weeks to observe WPS training.

She was accompanied by Dorothy Peto who thought her ‘a woman of outstanding personality – fearless, motherly and adaptable.’

Mrs Peto described how, on finding a young couple wrapped around each other in the grass in Hyde Park, Edith frankly pointed out the dangers and appealed to the man to be more chivalrous.

Mrs Peto said they responded with thanks and desisted their activities.

Edith’s appointment has to be seen in the light that 20,000 troops were stationed at Harrowby and Belton camps at this time and prostitution was rife.

Edith told how in her first year she found it necessary to get to know the ‘bad girls’ in town and visited theatres and cinemas in the town to stop them trading there.

Her report read: “I received nothing but courtesy and co-operation from the managements as soon as I made my methods known and they realised I was there to act as a deterrent to their houses being used by prostitutes as a hunting ground and to look after frivolous girls likely to get into mischief.”

During Edith’s first year, 100 wayward girls were cautioned. She also dealt with 15 cases of larceny (theft) involving women and girls, 16 women drunks, had 10 prostitutes convicted, eight placed in institutions and 10 handed over to their parents.

In addition, one fortune teller was charged and convicted, 18 respectable girls on temporary stays in town were assisted to their homes, while five respectable women and girls were assaulted.

There were 24 illegitimate babies, two disorderly houses convicted and 20 placed under observation.

Also during her first year Edith held interviews with parents reporting the misconduct of their children, girls asking advice, husbands placing their wives under observation while they were away and husbands inquiring about the misconduct of their wives.

Edith served in Grantham until January 1918  after working seven days a week throughout, to become matron of the Lindis Nursing Home, Dudley Road.

She died six years later after taking an overdose of morphine.

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