Marie Connolly Owens was an officer in the Chicago Police Department for 32 years beginning in 1891, but her employment wasn’t seen as a breakthrough for the history books, and was forgotten for decades. Strangely, her obituary did not even mention her years on the force. But at work, she was quite effective and respected by her supervisors. Owen began working for the government as an inspector, enforcing the new city ordinance against child labor.
Sanitary inspector Marie Owens dove into her work with a passion, removing illegally employed children from their workplaces, helping them find other means of support and even paying out of her own pocket to help their destitute families. She soon earned a reputation for zeal and effectiveness tempered by a diplomatic approach to parents, children, and business owners that made her as popular as someone in her role could be.
In 1891, the newly appointed Chief of Police, Major Robert Wilson McClaughrey—a tireless reformer with a particular interest in the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders—took notice of Mrs. Owens' efforts in tracking down wife deserters—men we now call deadbeat dads. Owens saw first-hand how many children were forced to seek employment to keep the family from starving after the father abandoned them. She was relentless in ferreting these men out and turning them into the police, so much so that McClaughrey decided to employ Owens in the detective bureau.
Read the story of the first woman police officer in America, and why other Chicago women did not follow her into the profession, at mental_floss.