It’s December 1913 and Ottawa police Chief Const. Alex Ross has an important announcement to make – the Ottawa Carleton Regional Police Service will be hiring its very first policewoman.
Florence Campbell was a former probation officer and superintendent of the Women’s Hostel. This year marks the 100th anniversary of her landmark appointment. For members of the Ottawa police community, the milestone is significant.
Const. Isabelle Coady had heard of Campbell before, but was surprised to learn the exact date when she was hired.
“1913 is a long time ago,” says Coady, a detective in the elder abuse department of the Ottawa police. “I think it must have been bizarre for a female to actually be a police officer.”
Archival research shows that when Campbell started with the police force she was not issued a uniform or a badge and was not allowed to carry a weapon. Her name did not appear on Ottawa Police roster lists and she was not included in any police force portraits.
Still, her story made headlines beyond Ottawa appearing in the Essex Free Press, the Windsor Evening Record and the Newmarket Era.
In her role, Campbell dealt primarily with women and children’s issues. She helped settle domestic disputes and investigated allegations of child abuse and neglect in a way similar to that of a social worker. Later, she was placed in charge of the telephone switchboard at the police station at Queen Street and Elgin Street.
Campbell was able to make arrests, but rarely did. She stated at the time that she preferred a more preventative approach.
“She does not aim to see how many erring mortals she can bring under the hand of the law, but rather how many tangles she can straighten outside of court,” stated a May 1914 article in the Ottawa Journal about Campbell.
Campbell retired from the police service in May 1935. In June, she married Ottawa police inspector Thomas McLaughlin.
City archival records show that after 21 years of service, her salary of $1,160 a year was still $415 less than that of the lowest ranking male officer position. She was never promoted.
With her resignation, the Ottawa Police service abolished the position of policewoman but pressure from local women’s groups such the Local Council of Women and the St. Andrews Society Women’s Auxiliary lead to the hiring of the city’s second policewoman in 1936, Alice Goyette.
Today, female officiers fill a variety of different roles in the organization, including severalhigh-ranking positions.
However, they are still in the minority. Currently, the Ottawa Police Service reports 366 working female officers and 1,243 males on their roster.
Additionally, the average salary of a female Canadian police officer is still significantly lower than that of their male counterparts. Policewomen earn roughly $60,000 compared to $90,000 for policemen, according to the 2006 census.
City Coun. Jan Harder says the Ottawa Police Services Board is in the midst of designing a year-long commemoration of the significance of Campbell and women in policing in general.