Lillian Armfield

In 1915, Lillian Armfield became the first policewoman in Australia.

Honour Roll

There are a number of women who lay claim to this title. Fanny Cocks is often credited as Australia's first policewoman, when in fact she began her service in South Australia some five months later than Lillian Armfield. The justification given is that Cocks was employed on the same wages and terms as policemen, whereas Lillian was on less pay and different conditions than her male counterparts. It is an interesting distinction, but one in fact which should not exclude Lillian from her rightful place. The reason Lillian was not on equal pay was on account of the prejudice of the time and certainly not as a result of her lesser role.

Another woman who should be given credit is Maude Rhodes who was employed at the same time as Lillian. However she did not last as a policewoman, for very long and hence has faded into obscurity.

Lillian was born on 3 December 1884, at Mittagong in New South Wales. She was educated locally before working as a nurse at Callan Park Hospital for the Insane in Sydney from 1907. She answered an advertisement and was employed as the first female policewoman in Australia in July 1915 along with Maude Rhodes.

They were employed on less pay and with different conditions and entitlements to the policemen. For instance, they were not allowed a pension upon retirement, were not eligible for compensation for injuries suffered in the performance of duties, were not to receive overtime payments and were not given a uniform. After a year's probation she was enrolled as a special constable.

Police around the world kept a watch on developments for Lillian and Maude were among the first plain-clothes female detectives in the world. Women's groups had called for women to serve on the police force for many years in an attempt to lower the number of women arrested for prostitution and vagrancy. The belief was that these women were often destitute or victims of abuse and needed to be helped, rather than treated as criminals. Part of the role of the female officers was to help with these women and young girls, but it was also to assist male officers with raids and arrests.

Often Lillian would be used as a decoy for the police to gain access to criminals. Initially, the work of these women was greeted with a mixed response, for it was felt by some that they were still arresting women who needed other assistance. Nonetheless, Lillian felt the social aspects of her job to be the most important.

There was resistance within the force to female officers yet Lillian was a dedicated worker. She carried out the first arrest at gunpoint by a female officer in the 1920s. By 1923, she became a special sergeant, 3rd class, then was promoted to the rank of 2nd class with direct responsibility for all plainclothes women police. By 1943, she had risen to 1st class. She was awarded the King's Police and Fire Service Medal in 1947 for outstanding service, another first for a woman, and retired from the force in 1949 without superannuation but with an Imperial Service Medal.

Lillian died in Leichhardt, Sydney on 26 August 1971.