Oral Histories of Iowa Policewomen
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Scope and Contents
The Oral Histories of Iowa Policewomen were conducted by Phylliss Henry between 1997 and 2005; they include associated papers dating from 1968 to 2005 and measure 5 linear inches. The collection consists of oral history interviews-tapes and transcripts-with fifteen women who served in police departments and law enforcement agencies in Iowa. A few interviews are accompanied by related materials such as newspaper clippings, photos, letters, or memos. The files are arranged alphabetically by the woman's last name at the time the interview was conducted. Henry's interviews trace the women's career steps, including when and why they first applied to a law enforcement agency, how the hiring process was conducted, what their assignments were, and which changes in job assignments were accompanied by pay raises. The women discuss how they got along with male and female co-workers, how their uniforms fit (or didn't), how their families reacted to their new jobs, how departments handled their pregnancies and childrearing responsibilities, and how the public received them. Henry asked the women to describe concerns the men had about working with them, how they were received by the department, how policewomen differ from policemen, and what they would say to a girl who wants to grow up to be a policewoman. In general, the policewomen reported that they loved their work and that it was a source of pride and confidence. Although most had some problems with their male co-workers and supervisors, they reported many strong working relationships with policemen. Many of these policewomen were assigned to the domestic and sexual assault cases that the men were reluctant to handle and became specialists in these fields. Jeanette Bucklew (Iowa Department of Corrections, Des Moines) was born in 1946 and entered law enforcement in 1968 as a probation and parole officer in Kansas City, Missouri. She worked in a variety of correctional institutions and services until becoming the Deputy Director for Western Regional Operations of the Iowa Department of Corrections, a position she held when the interview was conducted in 2000. Bucklew entered the profession of law enforcement because she had seen how the criminal justice system dealt with her younger brother's problems and believed there should be a better way. She stated that her male co-workers sometimes thought that the women "slowed them down" because they took a more relationship-oriented approach to their job. Jeanne Christensen (Davenport Police Department) was born in 1938, and joined the Davenport Police Department as a patrol officer in 1972 as a 33-year old mother of three. Christensen was still on the job at age 61 in 2000 when the interview was conducted. She was one of the original members of Davenport's Bike Unit, and an expert in domestic violence and mental health issues. Christensen's associated papers include newspaper clippings documenting the milestones of her career in the Davenport Police Department, her nomination by Sgt. Welke for the Iowa Association of Women Police Officer of the Year award in 2000, and her officer card. Christensen was interviewed with fellow officer Trula Godwin, and the transcript of the interview is filed under Godwin. Barbara J. Coffin (Waterloo Police Department), born in 1941, was hired by the city of Waterloo as a city hostess in 1967. The hostess' job was primarily to give parking tickets, but they also performed some tasks of a police officer and were supervised by the police department. In 1973, Coffin took the test to join the police department. She was a single mother with three children and the salary (twice what she was making as a hostess) was very attractive. Coffin passed the test and was hired as a patrol officer in 1973. She worked for the Waterloo Police Department for twenty-three years. She filed suit against the city with fellow officer and former hostess Karlene Piper to have her years as a hostess included under civil service for her retirement benefits. The suit resulted in a compromise that benefited Piper more than Coffin. Coffin's papers are also held by the Iowa Women's Archives. Trula Godwin (Davenport Police Department) was born in 1940 and joined the Davenport Police Department in 1973. Godwin decided to become a police officer because she felt the police did a very poor job handling her case after she was raped in her home. Godwin patrolled Davenport's inner city and became a friend of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. She died in 2002. Mary Jo Lessmeier (University of Iowa Department of Public Safety, Iowa City) was born in 1952 and entered law enforcement in 1974 with the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety. She was told at her initial interview for the job that the department had to hire minorities or they would lose federal funding, and they preferred women to "coloreds." Lessmeier and two other women were hired. Lessmeier enjoyed her work and was eventually promoted to detective-sergeant; she became a specialist in handling sexual assault cases and received an award for her work in this area. After a successful twenty-four year career, she was fired in 2001 by the new director. Henry conducted two interviews with Lessmeier; at the time of her second interview, Lessmeier was pursuing administrative and legal remedies. Ann J. Meyer (Waterloo Police Department) was born in 1954 and entered law enforcement in 1975 with the University of Northern Iowa Department of Public Safety as a police officer. She was the first woman on the force. In 1977, she was hired by the Waterloo Police Department and was still working there when interviewed in 2005. Meyer was the first female sergeant and lieutenant on the Waterloo police force. Meyer describes herself as naÃ¯ve and says a lot went over her head in the early days that she now sees as problematic. She wanted to get along, however, and was told she needed to be "one of the boys" if she wanted to get promoted. When she got pregnant in 1980, the chief told her to resign or be fired. She checked on the law, told him he couldn't fire her for being pregnant, and retained her position. Related papers include newspaper articles about Meyer's career and promotions, including an article about the week she spent counseling emergency workers at Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001. Cathy Ockenfels-Jordahl (Iowa City Police Department) was born in 1959 and entered law enforcement in 1976 with the Iowa City Police Department as a dispatcher; she became an officer in 1981. When she was told in 1996 that she would never get another promotion because she had filed a sexual harassment complaint against Captain Patrick Harney, she left the department and moved with her husband to Portland, Oregon, where she finished a master's degree at Portland State University. She wrote her thesis on the barriers to women in policing. Dorothy Palmer (Delaware County Sheriff's office), born in 1919, was hired as a secretary by the Delaware County Sheriff's office in 1963, and applied to be a deputy when an opening came up in 1966. At that time, she had three children in college and needed the money. Palmer was the first woman to work in the Delaware County Sheriff's office. She served papers and chaperoned female prisoners. Palmer retired in 1985. Related papers contain an article about her daughter, a photo of Palmer at her desk, and a letter from Delaware County confirming her hiring and retirement dates. Palmer's interview was conducted by telephone in 2005. Dana Peterson (Urbandale Police Department) was born c. 1955 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Peterson earned an associates degree in corrections and law enforcement from the Des Moines Area Community College, and a BA in criminal justice from Drake University. While a student, she worked as a dispatcher for the Ankeny Police Department for two years, and then interned with the Urbandale Police Department as a dispatcher in 1975. She was hired as a full-time dispatcher by the Urbandale Police Department in 1975, became an officer in 1977, and was promoted to sergeant in 1986. In 1991, Peterson was ordered to discipline Karen Robinson, a black woman officer, for wearing cornrows; Peterson refused to do so. Eventually Peterson and Robinson filed suit against the department charging them with racism and sexism. In 1997, Peterson resigned after she and Robinson reached a confidential settlement with the city. Newspaper articles about the lawsuit (Roxanne Conlin was their attorney) and a photo of Peterson in her uniform are included. Karlene Piper (Waterloo Police Department) was born in 1938, became a city hostess in Waterloo in 1967, and was hired by the Waterloo Police Department as an officer in 1978. Piper graduated from Marshalltown High in 1956, married, and had five daughters. By 1971, she was in a troubled marriage and needed more income, so she took the officer test to join the Waterloo Police Department, the only woman to do so that year. She was not hired. In 1974, the hostess jobs were abolished, and Piper was reassigned as a secretary in the juvenile division, although she did not know how to type. After taking the officer test numerous times, she was finally hired by the Waterloo Police Department in 1978. She left the department in 1990 after filing a lawsuit with fellow former hostess, Barbara Coffin, in which they claimed that their years of service as hostesses should count for their retirement benefits. The court concluded that their years of service would be counted from the first time each woman took the test to become a police officer, a decision which extended Piper's years of service by seven years. Piper's associated papers mainly relate to the lawsuit; they include newspaper articles, correspondence, the settlement agreement, and letters of appreciation. Joanne M. Pollock (Des Moines Police Department) was born c. 1959 in Duluth, Minnesota, and hired by the Des Moines Police Department as a patrol officer in 1981. Pollock was promoted to sergeant in 1990, to lieutenant in 1999, and was still with the department at the time of her interview in 2000. Pollock's professional expertise is in the areas of narcotics investigation, administration, and criminal investigation. In 1992, she was involved in a lawsuit charging her and two other officers with excessive use of force. One officer was found guilty and ordered to pay one dollar in damages. Josephine Rouse (wife of the sheriff of Madison County, Iowa) was born in 1924, in Peru, Iowa, and married Riley (Rex) Rouse in 1944; the couple had two children. Rex Rouse ran for sheriff of Madison County in 1955; he won and stayed on the job for the next twenty-six years. Josephine Rouse took on the unpaid duties of the sheriff's wife; she did the laundry for the prison linens, prepared three meals a day for all prisoners, frisked and handled female prisoners, supervised visiting hours, and answered the phone and radio calls. She was reimbursed for food, but did not receive a pay check until the last couple years. The Rouse family lived in an apartment in the eleven-cell jail building until 1977. Barbara Stence (Algona Police Department) was born in 1950 and hired by the Algona Police Department in 1985 as a dispatcher. She was married with six children. In 1987, a retiring deputy suggested she apply for his job. Although Stence got the highest score on the written test, she did not pass the physical test. When another officer resigned, Stence trained with other male officers, took the test again, and passed. She became a police officer in 1987, and was still with the Algona Police Department when her interview was conducted in 1999. Stence worked regular patrol and, as the head of community policing, provided instruction on Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), Violence and Gang Awareness (VEGA), and domestic abuse. Janet Walden (Kossuth County Sheriff's Department) was born in 1935 in Rockwell City, Iowa, and joined the Kossuth County Sheriff's Department as a secretary in 1975. The sheriff hired her because she was willing to be deputized, deal with female prisoners, and serve civil papers. Walden, who was divorced, explains that she needed a "man's job" to support her four children. Yet after she went through the academy and became a certified officer, she had to persuade the sheriff-with the help of an attorney- to pay her the same as the male deputies because, in the sheriff's view: "you don't need the same pay because you're single and the guys are married." Walden became involved in the women's movement and helped start a National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter in Algona in 1974. Walden describes the training she received at the police academy for handling rape cases, which she found misguided at best, and her role in unionizing the deputies in the department. She left the sheriff's department in 1985 and started teaching in the police science program at Hawkeye Community College. She was the first female instructor in police science. Walden retired in 2000. Joan Warne (Polk County Sheriff and Des Moines Police Departments) was born in 1936 in Des Moines, Iowa. She entered law enforcement in 1964 as a deputy sheriff with the Polk County Sheriff's office, and then joined the Des Moines Police Department where she worked as a policewoman and detective from 1968 to 1989. Warne graduated from high school in 1954 and worked for Blue Cross/Blue Shield until 1964. She wanted more of a challenge, however, and a friend recommended her for a position in the sheriff's office. She applied to the Des Moines Police Department in 1968 because jobs in the sheriff's office were political appointments and offered no security. Warne, who married a fellow detective, was never a uniformed officer and was not in favor of women patrolling in uniform; she thought it was too dangerous. She did believe that women do better investigative work, however. Warne's associated papers include newspaper articles, employment records, and memos.
- Creation: 1968-2005
Conditions Governing Access
The papers are open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.
However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/sc/services/rights/
Biographical / Historical
The Oral Histories of Iowa Policewomen were conducted by Phylliss Henry between 1997 and 2005. Henry, a former patrol officer with the Des Moines Police Department and a former U.S. marshal, began this project in 1997; she turned her full attention to it after retiring from law enforcement in 2001. The project documents the entry of women to Iowa's law enforcement agencies, especially police departments. These interviews describe the challenges women encountered when they entered police forces, the contributions made by women police officers, and the changes the police departments themselves underwent during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
5.00 linear inches
28 audiocassettes [AC881-882; 925-927, 930-933, 936-938, 1164-1172, 1175-1176, 1192-1196]. boxes
Language of Materials
15 interviews and associated materials document the entry of women into Iowa's law enforcement agencies.
Method of Acquisition
The records (donor no. 100) were donated by Phylliss Henry in 2003 and subsequent years.
- Walden, Janet, 1935- (Person)
- Meyer, Ann J., 1954- (Person)
- Coffin, Barbara, 1941- (Person)
- Warne, Joan, 1936- (Person)
- Rouse, Josephine, 1924- (Person)
- Peterson, Dana (Person)
- Piper, Karlene, 1938- (Person)
- Ockenfels-Jordahl, Cathy, 1959- (Person)
- Godwin, Trula, 1940-2002 (Person)
- Stence, Barbara, 1950- (Person)
- Bucklew, Jeanette, 1946- (Person)
- Christensen, Jeanne, 1938- (Person)
- Lessmeier, Mary Jo, 1952- (Person)
- Pollock, Joanne M., 1959- (Person)
- Palmer, Dorothy, 1919- (Person)
Genre / Form
- Algona (Iowa)
- Davenport (Iowa)
- Delaware County (Iowa)
- Des Moines (Iowa)
- Iowa City (Iowa)
- Kossuth County (Iowa)
- Madison County (Iowa)
- Urbandale (Iowa)
- Waterloo (Iowa)
- Sharon M. Lake, 2006.
- Language of description
- Script of description