South Aussie Stories: Kate Cocks, the empire’s first female constable Posted on

We learned a lot of things working with the South Australian Police Historical Society recently. One of those things is the story of Kate Cocks, the first female police constable in the British Empire.

In 1915, Kate Cocks was the first woman to be sworn in as a police officer with equal pay and conditions to those of her male counterparts. Before Cocks was sworn in, women had served in the police force but only with restricted duties and pay. Kate Cock’s post was distinctive as it carried full powers of arrest, and equality with male police officers.

In the years after the First World War, there was a wave of social changes and an adjustment of moral values. After the societal shakeup of the war, many were eager to fit into new roles to help rebuild. The concept of allowing female police officers had been around for a while, having been raised during the war.

Despite opposition from the all-male police force, Governor Henry Galway announced that the government planned to appoint female patrols. A few months later (December 1915) Kate Cocks, followed by Annie Ross, became our first female officers. Operating out of a rented room on Victoria Square, their duties involved safeguarding the moral welfare of women and children.

The woman patrols would have to ascertain for themselves in what direction they could best assist in the work of preventing young children wandering about the streets at night. A close eye would be kept on the newspaper columns for advertisements, the object of which might be deemed to be an endeavour to decoy young girls from their homes.

Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), Saturday 13 November 1915, page 9

The new team worked long hours, patrolling railway stations and wharves looking for women and children who were not greeted by friends. They sought to advise these women and children of the dangers present in the city. They also visited slums and reported cases of neglected children, and surveilled hotels and suspected brothels seeking to help women and girls soliciting as prostitutes. In a sense, they became the protectors of women and children in Adelaide.

As time passed Kate and Annie’s team grew, forming a team of compassionate and strong women dedicated to their cause. The S.A. Women’s Police Force grew to 12 members in 17 years.

Kate worked in the police force for 20 years, earning high praise for her dedication to duty. She was awarded the King’s Police Medal amongst a myriad of other commendations. After her retirement in 1934, the S.A. Women’s Police Force team continued their work as Kate began to work more closely with charities and social groups.

Members of the S.A. Women’s Police Force: front: l-r: Melva Harris, Daisy Rose Curtis, Fanny Kate Boadicea Cocks, Maud Mary Wilcher (Mrs), Mary J. Poole, Margaret Ottoway. Back: Ethel Frances Gleeson, Mary A. McCarthy, Isobel Eunson, Jean Campbell, Adeline Williams, Constance McGrath, Maude Priest.
Image courtesy of State Library of South Australia
Kate Cocks with Commissioner of Police, Brigadier General Leane and Superintendant Giles.
News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Wednesday 17 October 1934, page 5