Maude Marian Rhodes (1878-1956)
Police Woman / NSW Police Department
In 1915 the NSW Police Department advertised for two female special constable positions. Around 400 women applied, with the successful applicants being Maude Rhodes (an inspector for the State Children Relief Department) and Lillian Armfield (a nurse at Callan Park Mental Hospital). At the time there were 2,661 police officers in the NSW force. Rhodes and Armfield were not only the first women employed as police officers in NSW, but also the first in Australia.
Rhodes and Armfield’s employment was welcomed by many women’s organisations around Australia. Their duties involved dealing with women on both sides of the law, either detecting female offenders or protecting innocent women, girls and children. Wearing plain clothes, they policed Sydney’s streets, parks, railway stations and wharves, and had the powers to make arrests.
The 1915 employment register shows that Rhodes was the department’s first registered police woman, being number 64 and Armfield number 65. However, it was Armfield who had the longer career. She also had a role in Rhodes’ discharge in 1919: on 25 November Rhodes refused to obey a ‘legitimate order’ to go to Central railway station, given to her by ‘her superior officer – Special Constable LM Armfield’. Rhodes was given 14 days notice and discharged.
Maude Rhodes returned to the Children Relief Department in 1921, and became involved in the suffragette movement and the general push for women’s equality. She ran as a candidate in the Petersham municipal council election in 1937.
This content first appeared in the Public Service / War Service Exhibition that ran until September 2016.