Alice Birdman Maguire, Tucson’s first policewoman, is back patrolling the Old Pueblo this week.
She is reminiscing with her old partner and taking a tour, today, of the new police station — new to her, at least.
The visit was a surprise trip planned by her daughter for Maguire’s impending 90th birthday.
Maguire, who lives in Northern California, was the first woman sworn in as an officer for the Tucson Police Department.
In the early 1950s, she was married and a mother, working as a civil servant, compiling traffic statistics when word went out that the Police Department was looking for a female officer. The League of Women Voters didn’t like the idea of male officers frisking women and children and impressed upon the city manager the need for a woman on the force.
Maguire passed the civil service test with the highest score and headed to Los Angeles for three weeks of training where she learned to use a gun and defend herself.
She still has the gun she bought for the job. It has a bit of pink nail polish on the sight to help her line up a shot.
When she came back from training, she was partnered with Joan Reinke Robles. She had passed the test too, but didn’t get the same kind of training. Robles was left to learn on the job from Maguire.
Robles, now 87, had been working on the reception desk for Hughes Aircraft and heard the city was looking for a policewoman and applied.
“I didn’t know what to expect. There was a segment of the population down there who were suspicious of us,” Robles said of the other officers.
“They thought we were stool pigeons for the chief, but we weren’t,” Maguire said.
They worked rotating eight-hour shifts and earned less than $300 a month.
“That was a good salary. That was one of the things that got me there,” Maguire said.
From the start the women worked with the detective squad. And much to the chagrin of the police chief, they never wore uniforms.
The department ordered uniforms from a clothing store in town. But the women didn’t like them. They cajoled the store owner into telling the chief, whenever he asked, that the uniforms were “on order,” Maguire said. Eventually the chief stopped asking.
Instead of uniforms, Maguire and Robles patrolled the streets — and occasionally chased down scofflaws — in high heels, skirts and jackets. Each had a specially designed purse equipped with a holster for her gun. In each handbag they also carried handcuffs, a billy club and lipstick.
“They called Joan and me the suede slipper cops,” Maguire said.
While their police badges proclaimed them as Tucson Police Woman 1 and 2, the honor of being first actually goes to Nora Nugent, who served from 1929 to 1933, Bonnie Henry noted in a 2006 Star column.
As for their job descriptions, “they didn’t know what to assign us to, so the chief told us to go out and check the bars and stuff,” for children defying the 10 p.m. curfew, Maguire said.
To that end, one night Maguire found a boy out after curfew and brought him home to his father, mafioso Joe Bonanno. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about him anymore,’ ” Maguire recalled of her conversation with Bonanno.
Their first night on the job together, still lacking direction, they stopped into a movie theater for a look around. They went up to the balcony and found a man “with a rifle in his lap,” Maguire said. “We had a little confab about what to do.”
Eventually the women politely asked the man if he would mind coming with them to the manager’s office.
“He and his rifle got up” and followed the women down the stairs, Maguire said. Once in the manager’s office, they called for backup and the man was carted off to jail.
Later the women learned that the man “had run away from some mental institution,” Maguire said.
Another night they were called to the USO club to take care of a rowdy drunk.
“You sat down and said, ‘Come talk to me,’ ” Maguire told Robles. “And he laid down on the couch with his head in her lap, and when they came to arrest him, they see him with his head in her lap.”
“Tucson was a far different place,” Robles said.
“Did you ever pull your gun?” she asked Maguire as they reminisced at Robles’ Tucson home Monday afternoon.
“I patted it once or twice,” Maguire said. “I did have a man pull a knife on me one time. It was a domestic dispute call — a husband and wife — and he didn’t like me getting in between them. I opened the big old purse we had and jiggered it out a little” and the man put away his knife.
Most shifts, though, were less eventful. That’s when Robles’ ukulele came in handy. She would strum while Maguire drove the patrol car during long and tedious shifts.
“It was pretty boring in Tucson in those days. Tucson was buttoned up by 10 o’clock,” Robles said.
Robles left the Tucson Police Department after a year, moved to San Francisco and took a job as a social worker, before eventually returning to Tucson.
Once Robles left, Maguire was partnered with a veteran on the force. The partnership worked out well, for the most part.
Maguire had one child when she joined the force, and was still working when she was seven months pregnant with her second daughter. Even that late in her pregnancy, Maguire didn’t think she was showing all that much and didn’t tell anyone she was expecting.
“One day the shift captain called me in to say I was a nice looking lady and I really shouldn’t put on all that weight and I should go on a diet. When I told him I was pregnant, he nearly fell off his chair,” Maguire said.
She took an unpaid leave of absence after three years on the force to have her baby, but when she returned to her job, the chief did not welcome her back. The good publicity he earned for hiring a woman had dissipated while Maguire was on maternity leave.
“He was angry with me. He said, ‘You can work the jail and the graveyard
shift,’ ” Maguire said.
Maguire quit the force, but in retrospect, she thinks maybe she should have stayed on the job.
Soon after she quit, three captains brought complaints against the police chief and a petition circulated seeking his ouster from office citing “unbearable experiences at the hands of the chief of police,” causing many officers to quit or be fired, according to a newspaper article. The police board elected to “retire” the chief before the year was out.