Oregon’s Premiere Policewoman: Lola Greene Baldwin

By Naomi Inman

Last month, among many memorials, we remembered our law officers during National Police Week (May 10-16). So what about Lola?  Maybe you’ll be surprised to find that, 101 years ago, Portland installed the very first policewoman—in the nation. That lady was Lola Greene Baldwin (1860-1957), who wore the first petticoat for the Portland Police in 1908.  It was Lola’s special concern for the lipstick-clad gender that won her the moniker of Portland’s “Municipal Mother.”

By way of New York and Nebraska, Lola was relocated to Portland when her husband took a job there in 1904. Lola had already spent decades volunteering to help with wayward girls and she never skipped a beat in her new location. The 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition was coming to town and Lola got busy. She was concerned for the huge influx of young women in the crowds, so she worked with the YWCA to establish an outreach program that helped over 1,500 women during the expo.

To protect young women from moral pitfalls Lola did everything imaginable. She wasn’t afraid to grab a poor victim by the arm and find her a job, a shelter, a hospital, or a meal when necessary. She pulled women from massage parlors and brothels. She fought to find women a safe place in society. Lola literally worked the streets to rescue girls with a distinctly mothering approach. Sunset magazine wrote of her in 1912: “She is a big mother to them all…In a tawdry, foolish, self-conscious girl she sees qualities upon which to build for her future as a good citizen and perhaps a mother.”

Like so many of Oregon’s pioneers, Lola never set out to be the first at anything. But in 1908, when the Portland Police needed someone to investigate the bloody suicide of two street girls, they hired Lola, the neighborhood mom with organizational skill and passion. She was already 48 and only beginning a legendary career.

By 1917 Lola was travelling the country, explaining her programs of preventive policing and cutting-edge reforms for women’s welfare and safety.  She cared for unwed mothers, kept meticulous records, and compiled statistics to make her case to the press.  She was a one-woman PR agency for women and the mother of a mini-revolution. Lola retired from the Portland Police in 1922 having radically impacted law enforcement.  As our Lipstick Revolutionaries often do, Lola never really quit. She worked actively with women’s groups until her death at age 97.

*Source material in More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Oregon Women by Gayle Shirley (Globe Pequot Press, 1998).

Bio for NAOMI INMAN — Naomi Inman was born in Argentina and immigrated to Oregon with her parents and three siblings. She earned her M.A. in Journalism at Regent University (Virginia) and has put her education to use in radio and magazine work, and supremely so, as the mother of two young boys, composing rhyme to sooth the savage beast.

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