*** Published 7am - Friday 7 December 2018 ***
Merseyside Police and partners will today, Friday, 7 December, come together to celebrate the life and work of Britain’s first warranted policewoman, Edith Smith.
After learning that Edith (who died in 1923) was buried in an unmarked grave, a project to raise money for a headstone to commemorate and raise awareness of her was launched in October. The project was initiated by officers and staff from Merseyside Police support network, Parity 21, in conjunction with Cheshire Police, Lincolnshire Police and the Historical Societies of Grantham, Oxton and Runcorn.
Edith was born on 21st November 1876 near the centre of Oxton, Birkenhead, where she grew up, married and had four children. She became a midwife when her husband died, before joining the Woman's Police Volunteers in 1914 when the war broke out. The Woman's Police Volunteers eventually reformed as the Woman’s Police Service.
Edith was eventually posted to the Grantham area to assist in the issues including drunkenness, the widespread use of cocaine, prostitution and the consequent spread of venereal disease. At the time of her posting, women officers were expected to carry out actual policing duties, with no powers of arrest and unlike the male officers they were not paid out of local rates.
In December 1915, after a meeting was held to discuss the progress of the policewoman with Chief Constable Casburn, he signed Edith Smith's warrant card and she received the power of arrest, becoming the first full WPC and her name moved into history.
Today, a service will be held at St Mary's Church and Halton cemetery, Runcorn, where a headstone now stands at Edith’s previously unmarked grave. The service will be attended by one of Edith's only two remaining family members - her granddaughter, who is in her late 80s.
Inspector Vicky Holden, who assisted in launching the project said: "We are absolutely delighted that thanks to the help of the public and staff members from a number of police forces and societies, more than £2,500 was raised to provide a headstone for Edith's grave and a service to celebrate her life.
"Edith contributed a phenomenal amount to policing and her work paved the way for the officers of today, particularly female officers. As well as her police work she travelled throughout Britain, giving talks, writing books and campaigning about woman's policing. We couldn't believe that despite all of this and her unique place in British history, Edith’s grave remained unmarked.
"Through a JustGiving page as well as events such as cake sales, we have managed to raise the funds needed to ensure Edith’s final resting place has been rightfully marked. We are really looking forward to the service and it is a privilege that Edith's granddaughter is able to attend.
"I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has donated, your contributions have made it possible to mark Edith's place in history, and finally I would like to thank Edith, for all she has done for police officers of past and present."