I needed a female police officer. That is, I needed one in the novel I was writing. She would appear at the moment my female lead was deciding whether or not to turn the abandoned child over to the police. The female officer would gently guide her toward a judge she knew.
The question for me was whether there even were females in Chicago's Police Department in the 1880s. Just who would offer the heroine of my novel help with the little girl she called Marsha?
Of course, my fingers flew over the computer keys as I searched the Internet for an answer--a clear answer so my book would be historically accurate. And what was the answer to whether there were women on the police force?
Both yes and no!
In 1880, the first police matron was hired. She wasn't an officer, merely an employee of the police department. Her job, then? The hygiene of women and children.
No, she didn't run around with personal care products. Hygiene is better understood by looking at this old article in the Chicago Daily Tribune. It explained that temperance unions and a protective agency that looked after the welfare of women and children banded together to outline what a matron should be. Matrons were more like social workers than police officers. (https://www.chicagocop.com/download/chicago-daily-tribune-1891-august-22-changes-in-the-police-force-chief-mcclaughtry-discharges-and-fines-a-number-of-officers-what-a-police-matron-should-be/)
|Police matron aiding police by searching arrested woman's purse. |
Notice she has no uniform.
That worked perfectly with my novel. After all, I wanted someone who would see protecting little Marsha as her job. A woman who would know how adoption worked as well as the dangers for a child in the city.
Here's a peek at my next novel. It's the scene I've described with the matron.
Frankie turned away from the building. She couldn’t do it.
If she went in, there was no way she would be able to keep her little angel. No way could she give her up now. Not when she felt sure they were meant to be together. Marsha was sent to be her little girl, and Frankie wouldn’t bother the police with the matter.
She’d already taken two steps away from the station when a female voice behind her called loudly. “Ma’am, how can I help you?”
Turning, Frankie pulled the shawl over Marsha’s face before looking at the woman. She wore a dark dress with a star pinned above her left breast. That badge meant she had to be one of the police matrons Frankie read about in the newspaper.
So incredible that women were doing a job that involving neither nursing the sick nor caring for children. Regardless of the refusal by the force to give these women an official uniform, the ladies continued doing any jobs that required a woman’s help. Frankie read that the matrons especially focused on the health and safety of women and children. This matron would be the perfect person for Frankie to speak with about Marsha.
A voice inside Frankie’s head urged caution. Speaking with the matron meant she might lose the girl. With a shake of her head, Frankie answered the woman. “I changed my mind.”
The matron’s narrow lips twisted as her brows raised. “I can see that you’ve gained a child recently. You’re dressed nicely in that lovely, fitted wool coat. The child has nothing but your shawl.”
Stunned at the woman’s observations, Frankie meekly allowed the woman to guide her to a nearby bench. “Now, I’m Matron O’Reilly.”
The woman instructed in a no-nonsense voice similar to one Frankie used with her students. “Tell me how you and this little one met.”
Throughout Frankie’s retelling, the other woman’s unlined face remained expressionless. As if she reserved any reaction until she heard the whole story and had time to consider it. That reserve melted into fear when she read the sheet of paper Frankie carefully extracted from the smudged envelope.
“Ryan!” Matron O’Reilly’s voice held equal amounts of fear and awe. “I think a life in Wyoming might be the safest thing for this little one.”
The other woman’s tone frightened the typically unflappable schoolteacher. Frankie gripped the sleeping child closer to her breast and wondered what the police matron knew about the Ryan family.
Popping up from the bench with sudden determination, Matron O’Reilly settled hands on her hips as if she’d made a decision. “We need to see the judge.”
Frankie rose more slowly, rocking her body briefly to lull Marsha back to sleep. In the back of her throat, she tasted the sharp tang of tears gathering.
The matron took control and there was no escaping with Marsha now. Frankie’s voice dripped with equal amounts of frustration and sarcasm as she questioned the other woman.
“What can a judge do, other than take this little one away from me?”