Merseyside Police, alongside the Runcorn Historical Society, has today, Friday, 8 March International Women’s Day, celebrated the life of Britain’s first policewoman, Edith Smith.
Last year, a headstone was laid at Halton Cemetery, Runcorn and today and a plaque has been unveiled in her honour at St Mary's Church Hall, which stands on the former site of a row of terraced almshouses, one of which Edith made her home in when she came to Halton Village in the final period of her life.
Edith was born on 21st November 1876 near the centre of Oxton, Birkenhead, where she grew up, married and had four children. She became a midwife when her husband died, before joining the Woman's Police Volunteers in 1914 when the war broke out. The Woman's Police Volunteers eventually reformed as the Woman’s Police Service.
Edith was eventually posted to the Grantham area to assist in the issues including drunkenness, the widespread use of cocaine, prostitution and the consequent spread of venereal disease. At the time of her posting, women officers were expected to carry out actual policing duties, with no powers of arrest.
In December 1915, after a meeting was held to discuss the progress of the policewoman with Chief Constable Casburn, he signed Edith Smith's warrant card and she received the power of arrest, becoming the first full WPC and her name moved into history.
Inspector Vicky Holden said: “It’s fitting we are commemorating Edith today on International Women’s Day, as we have a lot to thank her for, for paving the way for future generations of female police officers.
"Edith contributed a phenomenal amount to policing and as well as her police work she travelled throughout Britain, giving talks, writing books and campaigning about woman's policing. We couldn't believe that despite all of this and her unique place in British history, Edith’s grave remained unmarked until last year, and again today we are proud to be part of a team who have come together to commemorate her with this historical plaque, so future generations can know about her and the amazing work she carried out in our communities.”
Stuart Allen, from the Runcorn Historical Society said: "I began my blue plaque scheme in January 2015, my intention being to celebrate Runcorn's rich and wonderful history on plaques in similar fashion to those I had seen and admired in other towns and cities. It was while I was producing the 26th plaque - for the classical pianist Martin Roscoe - that I was introduced to Edith Smith's story by Mr David Sterry, Chairman of The Runcorn & District Historical Society.
"As soon as I began reading Edith's story, I realised just how important this courageous and pioneering lady was. Not only did she have to face the inherent danger associated with being a police officer but, as one can easily imagine, she also had to endure ridicule and chauvinist comments from the general public and some of her male officers.
"Edith Smith has been a revelation to me. Until 2018 she was a complete unknown in Runcorn's history. Now, however, she is recognised as one of the most important people ever to be associated with our town. Even the terribly sad manner of Edith's death can never detract from the triumph of her life."