Notable Oregonians: Lola Baldwin - First U.S. Policewoman

photograph of Lola Baldwin
Lola Baldwin, 1860-1957. (Image courtesy
Lola Greene was born in Elmira, New York in 1860 and attended an Episcopal school for girls in Rochester, New York. Her father died in 1877, causing Lola to quit high school to earn money. She taught school for a number of years in New York and Nebraska before marrying LeGrand Baldwin in 1884. Eventually, she stopped working to raise their two sons. Her experience with being on her own at an early age led Baldwin to volunteer work helping wayward girls. In 1904, her husband took a job in Portland and she began to volunteer at a local refuge for young, unwed mothers.
The next year Portland prepared for one of the biggest events in its history, the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. With more than a million visitors expected, the local Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) established a travelers' aid program, in part to protect the influx of vulnerable young women from the inevitable con men, pimps, and other criminals who would also be attracted by the fair. Baldwin was paid 75 dollars a month for the duration of the fair and was given arrest authority. To enhance surveillance of the large fairgrounds, she recruited a small army of volunteers from Portland's women's clubs, thereby taking some of the pressure off of the city police department.
After the fair, Baldwin continued working without pay on sexual vice investigations involving young women. She organized the Portland Juvenile Court in 1905 and became its first probation officer for girls. Eventually, she proved her value to the city council and in 1908 it voted unanimously in favor of a women's police ordinance. Later that year, Baldwin passed a city civil service exam and was sworn in as the nation's first municipally paid police woman. She did not wear a uniform or badge, and she was housed in the YWCA building instead of police headquarters. Baldwin and her newly formed Women's Protective Division soon went on a crusade against venues that she believed contributed to the exploitation of young women, including brothels, dance halls, vaudeville theaters, and nightclubs. A self-described "Municipal Mother," Baldwin also believed that her gender imbued her with the nurturing skills and morality to prevent young women from turning to prostitution and to rehabilitate those who had already become prostitutes.
She was a committed suffragist who advocated for pay equity and a living wage as ways to keep young women workers from lives of prostitution or crime. Baldwin was a charter member of the Oregon Social Hygiene Society, which distributed information about sex education and venereal disease prevention. She was tapped by the federal government at the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War I to help keep prostitutes away from military bases throughout the West Coast and Arizona.
Baldwin retired from the Portland Police Department in 1922 but remained active as an advocate. She served several terms on the Oregon Parole Board and the National Board of Prisons and Prison Labor, and she traveled the country arguing favor of more women in police departments and for better protections for young women. Many of her ideas evolved into community and preventative policing ideas that continue to be practiced.
Lola Baldwin died in Portland on June 22, 1957. Her log books and records are on display in the Portland Police Museum.
(Sources: Oregon Experience | City of Portland | More Than Petticoats by Gayle Corbett Shirley)
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