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Women, Police and Fascism

John Simkin

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I have had complaints from the police about my portrayal of the early days of the women's police force. They especially dislike my page on Mary S. Allen. The daughter of the manager of the Great Western Railway, she was born in Cardiff in 1878. She joined the Women's Political and Social Union (WSPU) after meeting Annie Kenney. In 1912 she became head of the Hastings branch of the WSPU. A militant suffragette, she was imprisoned three times, including once for throwing a brick through a Home Office window.

Like most members of the WSPU, Allen agreed to the decision to give full support to the British war effort during the First World War. In September 1914, Nina Boyle, a member of the WSPU founded the Women Police Volunteers. The following year Margaret Damer Dawson became Commandant and Allen became her Sub-Commandant.

The government had always opposed the idea of police women but with large numbers of policemen joining the British Army, it was considered a good idea to have women volunteers to help run the service. Another reason that Dawson's proposal was accepted was that her members were willing to work without pay. Allen later remarked in her book, The Pioneer Policewoman, that: "A sense of humour had kept me from any bitterness. I was quite as enthusiastically ready to work with and for the police as I had been prepared, if necessary, to enter into combat with them."

In February 1915 Dawson and Allen renamed her organisation, the Women's Police Service (WPS). At first the WPS concentrated its work in the London area. Wearing a dark-blue uniform, the WPS were assigned responsibilities such as looking after the welfare of refugees.

When the Armistice was signed, there were 357 members of the Women's Police Service. Margaret Damer Dawson and Allen, asked the Chief Commissioner, Sir Nevil Macready, to make them a permanent part of his force. He refused, saying that the women were "too educated" and would "irritate" male members of the force. Macready instead decided to recruit and train his own women. However, both Dawson and Allen were awarded the OBE for services to their country during wartime.

When ill-health forced Margaret Damer Dawson to retire in 1920, Allen became the new Commandant of the Women Police Service. In February, 1920, Mary Allen and four of her members were charged with "impersonating police officers". It was claimed that their uniforms were too similar to that of the one worn by the Metropolitan Women Police Patrols. After a four-day hearing Macready won his case and the WPS were forced to change its uniform and its name to the Women's Auxiliary Service.

In 1922 Allen spent time in Cologne where she trained German women for police work. During the 1926 General Strike she helped to keep the road transport services running. Like many former members of the WSPU, including Emily and Christabel Pankhurst, moved in the 1920s to the extreme right. Allen was a frequent visitor to Nazi Germany and after meeting Adolf Hitler in 1934 and became one of his most fervent admirers. Even when on official duties with the Women's Auxiliary Service she wore Nazi style jack-boots.

Allen was an active supporter of General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist Army during the Spanish Civil War. She was also Chief Women's Officer of the British Union of Fascists and a member of the the Right-Club. The historian, Julie V. Gottlieb, has argued: "Allen was a prominent supporter of Mosley's British Union, a movement she claimed she had joined due to her sympathy for its anti-war policy."

Her extreme right-wing views made her unpopular with some members of the Women's Auxiliary Service and she was forced to leave the movement with the approach of the Second World War. According to Helena Wojtczak: "Mary Allen became increasingly eccentric, and her apparent support for Hitler and Goering led to questions about whether she should be interned in 1940."

There are several good books on the relationship between feminism and the far right. This includes: Feminist Freikorps: British Voluntary Women Police, 1914-40 (R. M. Douglas), Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain's Fascist Movement (Julie V. Gottlieb) and Women, Gender and Fascism in Europe, 1919-45 (Kevin Passmore)


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The origins of female police officers comes from women's patrols in the First World War. It was decided to billet the soldiers in local towns and villages. Some people became concerned about the soldiers corrupting local girls. The Headmistresses' Association and the Federation of University Women suggested the formation of Woman's Patrols to stop local woman from becoming too friendly with the soldiers.

The War Office gave permission for these patrols to take place outside military camps. They were also very active in public parks and cinemas. After visiting 300 cinemas in three weeks, the Women's Patrol Committee recommended that lights were not dimmed between films.

Women's Patrols worked closely with the local police and the Women Police Volunteers. It is estimated that during the First World War over 2,000 patrols were established, including over 400 in London.

You can read some funny local newspaper reports on this here:


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