Women In The Black

Kate Cocks: The First Female Police Officer In The British Empire

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Kate Cocks

There’s no doubt that being a police officer is very difficult job, but if you imagine in a day and age when women were not seen as equals, it’s hard to believe that through all the adversities that one woman became a police officer, not only the first in Australia, but possibly the first in the British Empire. That woman was Kate Cocks.

Fanny Kate Boadicea Cocks was born on 5 May 1875 in Moonta, South Australia. After experiencing hardships in her childhood when her father fell on hard times she was sent to relatives in Victoria and at 25 became a teacher and moved back to South Australia and took up a position with the South Australian Education Department. She taught at several schools and became sub-matron of the Industrial School at Edwardstown, Adelaide.

In 1906 Cocks took up a post in the Child Welfare Department of the State Children’s Council and three years later became the state’s first probation officer working to reduce the number of juvenile offenders who might be placed in institutions.

In 1915 Cocks was appointed the first woman police officer in Australia, and the British Empire, with the same rate of pay and same powers as the policemen. The responsibilities of Cocks and her assistant Annie Ross included protecting young women and children from violence or from being drawn into crime or prostitution, patrolling the nighttime streets and dance halls for those underage and handling female offenders. She worked easily with male colleagues, and won respect and obedience from juniors in the women’s branch which she headed.

She combined stern efficiency with generous advice and help to needy women. Her originality, insight and kindness, especially in the Depression, led to a wealth of legends. Moral but not censorious, she never used a weapon. She saw the equality of the sexes as ‘a just conclusion’, but believed in the sacredness of child-rearing.

Her staff had to take a first-aid course which emphasized maternity care. Although slight and spare she was proficient in ju-jitsu, and once helped a woman whose husband was beating her, by tutoring her in self-defence. Cocks also at times took homeless girls into her home. The hiring and use of women police constables was so successful, another was hired in 1916 and two more were hired in 1917, paving the way for women to have a career in the police.

Cocks retired from the police force in 1935 to nurse her ailing mother. She advocated for the Methodist Women’s Home Mission Association to open a refuge for homeless girls and a house was purchased for this purpose.

In the same year Cocks was appointed the Superintendent of the Methodist Women’s Welfare Department. It was also in 1935 that Cocks was awarded the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

In 1936 the Methodist Church established a shelter for unmarried women with newborn infants and other needy youngsters. Cocks superintended this home from 1937 and later it was re-named in her honour.

On 20 August 1954, Cocks passed away in Adelaide, South Australia. She was a legendary figure in Adelaide, and was known for her courage and compassion for all the people she came across, and that’s why she’s a woman of inspiration to us here at WITB.

Information courtesy of the South Australian Government.

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