Each Saturday in March, I will highlight an interesting woman from history.
This week’s focus is on Lola Baldwin, the first female police officer in the United States.
Aurora “Lola” Greene was born in 1860, in Elmire, New York. She grew up in the Rochester area, where her family, of Irish Protestant heritage, moved when she was young. She attended an Episcopal school for girls, and later attended Rochester High School. When her father died in 1877, she quit school and looked for work, finishing her high school studies on her own. When she passed the New York State qualifying exam for teachers, she taught near Rochester until 1880 when she moved, all by herself, to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she taught for three years at Lincoln Preparatory High School.
She met and married LeGrand M. Baldwin, a dry goods merchant. Baldwin resigned her job at the high school, as was expected of single women who married back then. Lola found clerical work, and volunteered as a social worker focused on helping “wayward” girls. She and her husband welcomed two sons, Myron and Pierre to their family.
In 1893, the family left Lincoln as LeGrand pursued his dry good career, becoming an employee of E.P. Charlton variety store chain. They were sent to a variety of locations in the next decade, and in each city where they moved, Lola continued her volunteer work. Finally, in 1904, the Charlton Company sent LeGrand to Portland, Oregon, to open its first store in the Pacific Northwest. Lola worked in the store’s business officed and joined the board of the city’s Florence Crittenton Home (a rescue home for “unfortunate lost girls” with locations across the nation).
Portland officials were gearing up for the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition. One of their concerns was a possible influx of criminals to the city, and fears of young women being targeted for any number of heinous activities, including pushing them into prostitution.
The Portland YWCA hired Lola as project supervisor, partially funded b y the Traveler’s Aid Committee. Lola and her associates compiled lists of local lodging and working places they deemed safe for young women. When the exposition opened June 1, 1905, volunteers met young women entry points to the city, such as Union Station, and offered advice about lodging and employment, and in some cases other aid such vouchers for meals. Volunteers patrolled the exposition, especially venues with shows considered risqué, dimly lit structures, places alcohol was served, and the carnival area, all of which they considered sexually dangerous. Baldwin reported the Travelers Aid had helped 1,640 women and girls in various ways during the event.
After the exposition ended, Lola continued in a position with the local Travelers Aid branch, based at the YWCA. Lola continued the type of work she had done during the exposition, often helping runaways and young women with legal troubles.
With the support of the mayor and the Portland police, she eventually convinced the City Council to create and fund what was formally named the Women’s Auxiliary to the Police Department for the Protection of Girls, later renamed the Women’s Protective Division
On April 1, 1908, Mayor Harry Lane administered the police oath to 48-year-old Lola Baldwin, the first woman hired under civil service rules in the United States as a full-time paid law enforcement officer.
From 1908 to 1922, Detective Lola Baldwin supervised the officers of the Portland Police Department Women’s Protective Division. During her years of service, she had a major impact on state and federal law enforcement and penology. She advised the Portland Vice Commission, encouraged the city’s Domestic Relations Court, and served as Oregon State Special Agent for vice control.
In 1912, she lobbied for the creation of the Hillcrest Oregon Industrial School for Girls near Salem. In 1918, Lola secured federal funding for the Cedars Venereal Detention Facility for Women near Portland. She worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland as an investigator for Immigration Bureau cases involving interstate prostitution. During World War I, the Federal Commission on Training Camps appointed her as the West Coast supervisor for vice control near military facilities.
After her retirement in 1922, Baldwin served numerous terms on the Oregon Parole Board and the National Board of Prisons and Prison Labor. Throughout her life she was an advocate for women’s rights and incarceration reform.
Until her death in 1957 in Portland at age ninety-seven, she remained a passionate advocate for women in police service.