A History of Women in the Vancouver Police Department

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Three officers take aim during target practice. In 1967, women were required to train with firearms but were not allowed to carry them on duty.

Written by Matteo Miceli

During the early 1910s, the women’s suffrage movement was in full swing. Women’s rights groups were firmly established and boasted vast memberships. One such organization was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a group founded on the tenets of evangelical protestant beliefs. While the WCTU is best known today as the driving force behind prohibition, they were also advocates for the protection of women and children. The WCTU were concerned with the high rate of domestic violence in Canadian society and sought to reduce it through political action. Along with temperance, the WCTU also pushed for the representation of women in the police, believing their maternal nature would lead to greater protection for women and children who were victims of violence.

Lurancy Harris when she was hired in 1912.

In 1912, because of pressure from the WCTU and other women’s groups, the Vancouver Police hired their first female constables, Lurancy Harris and Minnie Miller. Not only was this a first for Vancouver, but Constables Harris and Miller were the first female officers hired in all of Canada. The two worked under the newly formed ‘Women’s Protective Division’ and their duties related exclusively to the handling of female and juvenile criminals. Officially, the women were referred to as ‘matrons’ and were stationed on duty in the city jail. They also patrolled pool and dance halls, keeping the city’s youth out of trouble.

Minnie Miller when she was hired in 1912.

At the time, the concept of female officers was radically progressive, and the women of the VPD were not treated equally to their male counterparts. They didn’t make as much money, they weren’t given uniforms, they didn’t receive training and they weren’t permitted to carry a firearm. Female constables had to supply their own coats and skirts, and carried their equipment not on belts, but in their purses.

Over the next two decades, the number of female constables in the VPD slowly increased. By 1943, the ‘Women’s Division’ had expanded to eleven officers under the command of Inspector Nancy Hewitt. Inspector Hewitt was instrumental in bringing about changes to the department, changes that helped shrink the inequality gap between men and women. Female constables were issued official police uniforms in 1947, and in 1952, they became eligible for in-service training. But one of the greatest leaps forward came in 1956 when female officers were granted equal pay to their male colleagues.

Nancy Hewitt, Inspector of the Women’s Division.

But the fight for equality was far from over. There were serious institutional issues within the department that still marginalized women. For example, female officers were referred to as ‘police women,’ a term distinct f