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adies I

By Gail Banzet

n today’s world, it is not unusual to spot a female police offi cer on patrol, but women have not always had the opportunity to wear

a badge. Someone had to pave the way for Okla- homa City’s ladies of the law, and thanks to six brave women, today’s female offi cers feel right at home on the force.

Retired offi cer Jean Latham sits in the Oklahoma City Police Department’s down- town headquarters. She retired in 1983 as a detective and was inducted into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame last December.

Breaking Ground with Female Recruits When Jean Latham began working as an Okla- homa City police offi cer in August of 1955, she did not realize the significance of her career choice. She had worked other jobs in a clothing store, a telephone company and an accounting fi rm, but the work of a cop had always been off- limits.

Vashina Butler is a veteran in the Okla- homa City Police Department who was promoted to captain earlier this summer.

“I’d always wanted to be a police offi cer but when I grew up, it wasn’t anything that was ever thought of,” Latham said. “Women were sup- posed to stay at home raising ‘kiddies.’” The Central Rural Electric Co-op member moved with her family to Oklahoma City as a teenager and graduated from St. Joseph’s High School – a building that was later torn down to build the Murrah Building. As an adult, she was no stranger to public service; her husband at the time was a fi refi ghter, and when the city of Okla- homa City decided to open up six police offi cer positions for women, she competed against 200 others for a spot.

“We made top grades that had never been made in recruit school, and the chief was not happy,” she said. “We were assigned to the downtown li- brary for our training, and at the same time, they were having a recruit class down at police head- quarters.”

Latham and the other women later learned the police chief at the time was responsible for setting up their training at a different location. He did not want the ladies to associate with male offi - cers – a harsh reality those fi rst six women would encounter many times during the early days of their careers.

Twenty-nine-year-old Katie Lawson is one of the younger offi cers on Oklahoma City’s police force. She began academy in 2006 and says retired offi cers like Jean Latham are her inspiration.


“We weren’t allowed to wear pants,” Latham said. “We wore skirts and slippers and no boots. We were called ‘meter maids’ as a slam from the chief, but we just realized we had to ignore all of these things thrown at us.”

After their training, the original six female of-

fi cers spent most of their time writing tickets and impounding cars for a salary of $225 a month; but in time, Latham took on other jobs in the department. She worked as jailer, a body guard and a telephone operator – all while secretly car- rying a gun.

“We weren’t supposed to let the public know

that we were armed at that time,” she said. “A company made special purses for ladies carrying a gun, and mine was a shoulder bag where you’d slide your gun in an opening on the side.” She said she enjoyed her work as a cop and took the opportunity to test for a promotion whenever it was allowed.

“First, I was transferred in to work the jail as a matron,” she said. “I always took all the tests for promotion, and ordinarily for the men, it only takes a couple of years for them to be promoted. It took me 17 years.”

In 1974, Latham worked her way up the ranks and was named Oklahoma City’s fi rst female de- tective. A year later, she became the fi rst female ever allowed in the Honor Guard – an all-male organization requiring a unanimous vote for membership.

“I had so many cases that I worked on as a de- tective, and then I was always involved with spe- cial events somewhere,” she said. “Everything was an experience.”

Latham retired from the force as a detective in 1983, but her trailblazing career would not be forgotten. She is a member of the Retired Police Offi cers Association and a charter member of the Fraternal Order of Police. After retirement, she went to work as an offi ce manager at a local physi- cian’s clinic in Oklahoma City and then returned to security work at the downtown library. “One of the security offi cers retired from the Metro Library System and he called me,” she said with a grin. “So, I was back in uniform again for 12 years.”

As she worked her way through retirement, members of Latham’s family began to follow in her footsteps. Her daughter, Judy Goodwin, be- came Broken Arrow’s fi rst female police offi cer and her son, Michael, is a third-generation fi re- fi ghter who retired at the rank of major. Oklahoma City’s initial class of female recruits in 1955 were the only females hired until 1972, and last December those original six were induct- ed into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall

Photos by Gail Banzet

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