A blue plaque was unveiled in Grantham on Sunday to honour the country’s first policewoman.
Edith Smith became the first policewoman with the powers of arrest in 1915 and served in Grantham for three years until 1918.
On Sunday the plaque was unveiled by Lincolnshire’s deputy chief constable Heather Roach in Edith Smith Way next to the Guildhall in front of police officers, cadets, dignitaries and members of the public.
Courtney Finn, of the Civic Society, which looks after the blue plaques in the town, introduced deputy chief constable Roach who unveiled the plaque, and the Rev Jim Farley who did a blessing.
Mr Finn then spoke about the life and career of Edith Smith.
He said: “In her first Annual Report PC Smith says she commenced duty as a policewoman in Grantham under the auspices of the Women’s Police Service in August 1915 and was officially appointed as a policewoman by the Watch Committee. However her Warrant Card is signed and dated by Chief Constable Casburn on 17 December 1915 but looking at Edith in full uniform she must have presented a formidable sight and perhaps was not much asked about a Warrant Card.
“She says: ‘I immediately found I was in a much better position for carrying out the work than previously; the official appointment made such a vast difference and in consequence the whole of the duties were performed in a much better and more satisfactory manner’.
“This implies that she worked in a non official capacity before, but we have no record of this. She said ‘during the first year of my work in Grantham that it was necessary to know the bad girls of the town personally, so whenever occasion presented itself I called upon a girl so that I might know her and her surroundings, and be able to distinguish them from the professionals from adjacent towns, who flock through the streets at night’.
“She went on ‘I can testify to the fact, as has often been quoted, that my presence in the streets is sufficient to bring about order among girls’.
“With cooperation from the theatre and picture houses Edith created a black list of girls trying to solicit there. After a few cautions she said ‘the prostitutes have found it does not pay, and the frivolous girls have bowed down, and after a short prohibition, have been taken off the list, and are behaving well’.
“Edith dealt with unseemly conduct, as she called it, in the picture houses. For 1917 her report described no less than 383 cases. These ranged from 20 Dirty house reported; 40 foolish girls warned, 30 soldiers wives visited, some cautioned others had allowances stopped, three local girls returned to parents, 10 neglectful mothers reported to the RSPCC and to health visitors, four houses raided, five street accidents helped. There is much more and those of you invited to the Mayor’s Parlour later may read Edith’s reports for yourselves.
“By comparison in 1916 she had cautioned 100 wayward girls amongst the 411 cases in total, so the numbers had fallen to 383 cases in 1917. I have not been able to find much about Edith herself save that she had been a midwife, was married, but died in 1924 at the age of only 44 from an overdose of morphine presumably taken as a painkiller. We know her grandaughter Margaret visited the town in 2006 to stand here in Edith Smith Way and her visit was reported in the Grantham Journal.
“After completing her service she wrote what is described in the newspaper as a ‘Text book for Policewomen’. She described in detail the wearing of the correct uniform. She worked six days per week and had only 14 days holiday per year, and only one weekend off each three months. She states that one shilling per day was deducted from pay whilst incapacitated.
“Those days are far off but Edith will have known these streets and of course these cells. Reading her reports I feel although she describes her powers of arrest she was sparing of using them, preferring to give warnings and guidance whenever she could. She felt I think she was here to help the community and her fellow officers in the difficult job of controlling the vast influx of often young soldiers who walked into town along Belton
Lane in search of a friendly pub and a good time. Many thousands certainly never came back to Grantham and did not return home at all. We are commemorating all of them in these anniversary years, but today I am so pleased that our most senior lady police officer, Heather Roach, has joined us to honour a remarkable lady. It cannot be easy to be the first of anything and Edith was indeed a pioneer and I suppose a trailblazer for others who came later. I am sure she was a good example.”