10 Trailblazing U.S. Law Women

Phoebe Couzins, first female U.S. Marshal
Phoebe Couzins, first female U.S. Marshal
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Even today, police work is something of a man’s world. As of 2016, only about 12.5 percent of full-time officers in local police departments [PDF] and 14 percent of full-time federal officers were female [PDF], according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the idea of a woman in law enforcement—especially a woman doing the same dangerous work as their male colleagues and not sitting behind a desk—was unheard of. At least, it was until these women came along. From detectives to deputies to sworn police officers, these trailblazers paved the way.

1. Kate Warne

When Allan Pinkerton founded the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in 1850, he didn’t have any plans to turn it into an experiment in gender equality. Six years later, Kate Warne made him reconsider. Shortly after Pinkerton placed an ad for new detectives in a Chicago newspaper, Warne entered his office and asked for a position. To his surprise, she did not want to be a secretary, but a full detective. She argued that she could offer skills his male detectives didn’t have, arguing that women could be "most useful in worming out secrets in many places which would be impossible for a male detective," Pinkerton wrote in his records.

After some convincing, Pinkerton hired Warne. She quickly proved he had made the right decision after Warne joined the investigation into some missing funds at the Adams Express Company. One Mr. Maroney was suspected of embezzling from the company. Warne befriended his wife, and learned information that helped recover almost the entire amount. It also led to Maroney’s conviction.

Warne’s successes paved the way for a number of other female Pinkertons, both as private detectives and as Union spies during the Civil War. Pinkerton’s agency was hired by the Union Army to infiltrate Confederate society and help monitor troop movements and plots against the Union.

It was in this second role that Warne helped to prevent an assassination attempt on President Abraham Lincoln. By this time, Warne was the superintendent of all of Pinkerton’s woman detectives, but he called on her especially to pose as a Southern lady in Baltimore and help learn details of the suspected plot.

“Mrs. Warne was eminently fitted for this task. Of rather a commanding person, with clear-cut, expressive features, and with an ease of manner that was quite captivating at times, she was calculated to make a favorable impression at once,” Pinkerton wrote in his book The Spy of the Rebellion. “She was a brilliant conversationalist when so disposed, and could be quite vivacious, but she also understood that rarer quality in womankind, the art of being silent.”

Warne won over the wives of several conspirators, gaining key information to uncover their scheme to kill Lincoln while he traveled by train and destroy a section of track as well. She then aided Pinkerton himself in smuggling the president secretly aboard a train so that he could pass through Baltimore undetected.

Warne died of pneumonia in 1868, after 13 years as the head of Pinkerton’s woman detectives. She was only 38. Her remains were buried in the Pinkerton family plot.

2. Marie Owens

In 1889, as more women and children began to work in shops and factories throughout Chicago, the city appointed five women to serve as health officers to ensure that working conditions for these often exploited groups were reasonable. One of those women was Marie Owens, a widow with five children. It was her first real job outside the house, but she quickly gained a reputation for excellence and efficiency. She also soon earned herself a special assignment, looking after children under the age of 14 and enforcing Chicago’s long-neglected child labor law—earning the title of sergeant along the way.

Owens rarely made arrests and did not go on patrol. Her rank and position were more of a formality to give her the authority to enforce the city’s labor laws than anything else. However, that did not mean that she was a figurehead or mascot. By 1901, she was the only woman officially on the Chicago police force. She had proven herself so vital to the force that they appointed her a patrolwoman to save her job when the health officers were phased out.

“Mrs. Owens is qualified to make arrests and perform all the duties of a patrolman. In fact, she is a patrolman, gets the salary, has the rank and all,” her supervisor, Lt. Andrew Rohan, told the Chicago Tribune in 1904. However, she herself admitted that while she theoretically could make arrests, she did not; instead, she busied herself protecting the welfare of abused children and women laborers. She also cracked down on men who abandoned their families.

While the work she performed is closer to what a social worker would do today, her rank and employment by the Chicago Police Department made her the first woman police officer in the United States and perhaps the world. She retired after 32 years with the department at the age of 70, and died four years later in 1927.

3. Claire Helena Ferguson

It’s unclear who should claim the title of first female deputy in the United States, but Claire Helena Ferguson is certainly a contender, and was one of the most famous among her contemporaries. In 1897, she was just 21 years old when she received her commission in Salt Lake County, Utah.

Ferguson’s duties appeared to be primarily focused on taking custody of female criminals and reprimanding child truants and vandals, along with serving as a stenographer in court cases. But she was reportedly the only woman to ever visit the Robber’s Roost, a Utah cattle thieves’ den—at least, as of 1899. She was also trained to use a gun like any other deputy, and there were reports she could be called in to carry out executions.

Ferguson was adamant that she was no different than other women her age. She enjoyed courting and clothing, and she did “fancy work”—decorative needlework—when not on the job. In January 1898, she even appeared in a Salt Lake City stage play. She also wrote a number of columns about her exploits as a deputy sheriff for the New York Journal while visiting family back East, and the contents of those columns spread throughout the country.

In 1899, the Milwaukee Journal quoted one of her columns: “I have taken 106 women to the insane asylum. I have served 200 summonses. I have taken a dozen children to reform school. I have escorted six women from jail to court and from court to jail and sat with them through the trials. I prevented the escape of a desperate burglar and saved a woman from suicide. What I did any woman of determination may do. My opportunities, rather than my exploits, were extraordinary.”

4., 5., and 6. Phoebe Couzins, Mrs. F.M. Miller, and Ada Carnutt

At the turn of the last century, several women quietly joined the U.S. Marshal Service as deputies throughout the West. They served federal warrants, escorted prisoners, and captured fugitives from the law.

Among the first women to be appointed a deputy U.S. Marshal was Phoebe Couzins, who was appointed to the position in eastern Missouri when her father was named the U.S. Marshal there in 1884. Though her father appointed her to the position, she was well-suited for it. Couzins had a law degree and was one of the first woman lawyers in the nation. She had also spent years involved in politics, especially with the women’s suffrage movement.

When John Couzins died in 1887, President Grover Cleveland asked Phoebe Couzins to step in temporarily. She served as his interim replacement for two months, making her the first woman U.S. Marshal.

Though she left the service when she was replaced by a male permanent U.S. Marshal, Couzins went on to become a public speaker. She became more conservative in her older years, though, renouncing women’s suffrage and fighting against Prohibition.

Another early deputy was Mrs. F. M. Miller in Paris, Texas, appointed in 1891. She rode with fellow deputy Ben Campbell in Indian Territory, based out of South McAlester, Texas. She was described as an “expert shot and a superb horsewoman, and brave to the verge of recklessness,” according to an article in the Fort Smith Elevator.

Meanwhile up in Oklahoma, a third deputy, Ada Carnutt, was actively making arrests, including boarding trains to do so. “Like all deputies of her era, she had to be extremely tough and ready to face a wide range of situations,” the U.S. Marshals Service wrote of Carnutt.

Other early women deputies in the U.S. Marshals Service included Mrs. Jack Stringer of Seattle, Washington, Miss Nellie Burch of Kansas, and Misses Sadie Burche and Mamie Fossett, who worked together in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Not much is known about these women’s lives, but they took up badges during a time when few women did, especially in careers as demanding as the U.S. Marshals Service.

7. and 8. Alice Stebbins Wells and Georgia Ann Robinson

Alice Stebbins Wells wasn’t the first woman to hold the title of police officer in the United States, but she was the first to actually go on patrol and carry out the same duties as her male colleagues. Before she wore a badge, policewomen often had the same technical authority as their male counterparts, but in practice their duties were more like those of advocates or social workers. Wells wasn’t going to settle for that.

In 1910, not long after Los Angeles passed a city ordinance allowing the L.A. Police Department to hire policewomen, Wells applied for a position and was assigned to work as a juvenile officer. Her application must have come as no surprise to the department, since she’d helped advocate for the ordinance in the first place. While women had previously worked for the LAPD and other police agencies as prison matrons and in positions similar to social workers, the ordinance created the first positions at the department that granted women arrest powers and patrol responsibilities.

Wells and her partner patrolled skating rinks, dance halls, picture shows, and other venues where young people might cause trouble—and young girls might be taken advantage of. She also had the pleasure of arresting “mashers,” men who made unwanted sexual advances toward women in public, or seemingly innocent offers to pay for a movie or ice cream with expectations of more from the young women they duped.

Within two years, the department had hired two more patrolwomen and three police matrons. Wells advocated for more policewomen, visiting police departments in other cities, giving speeches around the state and country, and co-founding the International Policewomen’s Association in 1915 as well as the Women’s Peace Officers Association of California in 1928. She retired in 1940, after 30 years with the department; by then, about 40 women worked for the LAPD.

In the meantime, one of the women Wells paved the way for blasted through another major barrier, becoming the first black woman to serve as a police officer in the United States. Georgia Ann Robinson was a 37-year-old volunteer with the LAPD when she was recruited to work as one of the department’s police matrons in 1916. The matrons served in the department’s jail, monitoring women who were suspected of various crimes.

Robinson didn’t rest there, though; she was promoted to a full officer in 1919. Much like Wells, she was assigned to juvenile offenders, but she used that platform to work her way up to more traditional police work, including homicide cases. She also spent her free time working to fill the city’s needs, helping to found the Sojourner Truth Home for women in need of a shelter. In her work, she had observed that thousands of women and girls left their homes due to unsafe conditions.

She worked as a police officer until 1928, when she was blinded while helping to break up a brawl between two women in the jail. She was pensioned on disability, but she was not content to live out the rest of her days in peace. She used her forced retirement to help desegregate Los Angeles schools and beaches, and continued to volunteer at the Sojourner Truth Home.

"She was one of those individuals who had a command performance about her. She was no-nonsense and she did what she said and meant what she said,” Demetra Butler, Savannah Chatham Metro Chief of Staff, said in 2013.

9. Constance Kopp

Not long after women began making names for themselves as deputy sheriffs, they began looking toward the highest position in their departments: Sheriff.

One woman pushing against the glass ceiling was Constance Kopp, or, as she was called by the newspapers, Constance the Cop. Kopp never served as sheriff, but she was invited to serve as undersheriff of Bergen County, New Jersey, second in command to Sheriff Robert Heath, after a fascinating real-life saga of lawsuits, vandalism, and threats of human trafficking.

It all started when Henry Kaufman, a wealthy factory owner, crashed his car into the Kopp family buggy in July 1914. He refused to pay for the damages, and Constance Kopp, no shrinking violet, filed a lawsuit. The courts awarded her $50, which evidently provoked Kaufman’s ire. After he accosted her on the street, Kopp had him arrested.

That’s when prowlers began roaming the Kopp homestead at night, breaking windows and sending threatening letters. One letter demanded $1000 from the Kopp sisters, and threatened to burn down their home if they didn’t pay. Another said they planned to kidnap Constance’s sister Fleurette and sell her into “white slavery” in Chicago.

Kopp turned to Sheriff Heath for help, working with him on an undercover sting operation that unfortunately came up dry. Despite that failure, Kopp continued to work closely with Heath and his men to track down the writer of the letters (which involved hiring the services of a handwriting expert), as well as discovering the owner of a diamond ring left behind by a vandal. They ultimately secured Kaufman's conviction; he was forced to pay a thousand dollar fine and was warned of a prison sentence if he “annoyed” the Kopps again. Heath was so impressed by Kopp’s mettle that he took her on permanently after the case was over.

Kopp quickly proved herself worthy of the title, helping to track down a German doctor who was a fugitive from the law and closing other cases, but she lost her job two years later when Heath lost re-election. Kopp was nearly forgotten until author Amy Stewart discovered her story basically by accident, uncovering Kopp’s fascinating life and turning it into five historical novels—so far.

10. Emma Daugherty Banister

Kopp rose to unprecedented heights for women, and her accomplishment offered a stepping stone for possibly the first woman to serve as county sheriff outright. That was Emma Daugherty Banister, who never wanted the job.

In August 1918, Banister became the sheriff of Coleman County, Texas when her husband, the elected sheriff, died and county commissioners asked her to take his place. She was no law enforcement newbie, however; for nearly four years, she had been a sworn deputy in her husband’s department, though her duties primarily involved keeping the office supplied and cooking meals for prisoners.

While Banister only served the remainder of her husband’s term, three months, she completed her added duties well and received praise from the county’s top officials. Newspapers portrayed her as a fearless sheriff with six-shooters at the ready, but her real work was primarily continuing the duties she’d fulfilled as office deputy, with the addition of directing deputies, updating records, and answering mail. Commissioners were impressed enough by her efficiency that they offered to place her name on the ballot when her husband’s term had been completed.

That wasn’t Banister’s dream, though. Instead, she turned them down and returned to the family farm. It proved to be a smart move, as the discovery of oil on her family’s property allowed her to travel and invest in real estate later in life. Still, her short term in 1918 opened the door for other women to serve as their counties’ top cops, both by appointment and by election.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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The Library of Congress Needs Help Transcribing More Than 20,000 Letters Written to Teddy Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt would want you to transcribe these letters.
Theodore Roosevelt would want you to transcribe these letters.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

With some historical figures, the best we can do is speculate about their innermost thoughts and imagine what their lives might really have been like. With Theodore Roosevelt, we don’t have to. In addition to a number of books, the 26th U.S. president wrote speeches, editorials, diary entries, and letters that document virtually every aspect of his self-proclaimed strenuous life both in and out of the Oval Office.

When it comes to letters, however, only reading those written by Roosevelt can sometimes be like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. Fortunately, the Library of Congress possesses tens of thousands of letters written to Roosevelt, too—and they need your help transcribing them.

The collection includes correspondence from various phases of his career, covering his time as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War; his stint as William McKinley’s vice president (and abrupt ascent to the presidency when McKinley was assassinated); his own campaign and two-term presidency; and his work as a conservationist. Overall, the letters reveal the sheer volume of requests Roosevelt got, from social engagements to political appointments and everything in between. In January 1902, for example, Secretary of State John Hay wrote to Roosevelt (then president) on behalf of someone who “[wanted] to be a Secretary to our Special Embassy in London.” A little over a week later, The Gridiron Club “[requested] the pleasure of the company of The President of the United States at dinner” that weekend at the Arlington Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Of more than 55,000 documents in the digital archive, about 12,000 have already been transcribed, and nearly 14,000 need to be reviewed. There are also roughly 24,000 pages that still have yet to be touched at all. If you’d like to join the effort, you can start transcribing here.