Bonnie Henry: Cops in heels

In the early 1950s, Tucson employed exactly two female police officers. They're friends to this day.
2006-03-23T00:00:00Z 2013-11-12T11:52:08Z Bonnie Henry: Cops in heelsBonnie Henry Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 23, 2006 12:00 am  • 

They wore high heels and oh-so-smart suits and carried their snub-nose revolvers in their handbags.

"We were both pretty good shots," says Alice Birdman Maguire, who, along with Joan Reinke Robles, served as Tucson's only two policewomen in the early '50s.

While their police badges proclaimed them as Tucson Police Woman 1 and 2, respectively, the honor of being first actually goes to Nora Nugent, who served from 1929 to 1933.

Maguire and Robles came next — but only after considerable arm-twisting by the League of Women Voters.

"They didn't like the idea of men searching women and children," says Maguire, who was already keeping track of traffic records for the Tucson Police Department.

In early 1952 she easily passed the civil service exam and was on her way for two weeks of training at the police academy in Los Angeles. "They taught us judo and shooting," says Maguire, who returned just in time to meet Robles, her new partner.

"My nose was out of joint," Maguire admits. "I thought I was the big thing. Now they had a second one. But we became good and fast friends."

Unlike Maguire, Robles had just been passing through on her way from Minneapolis to San Francisco.

"I was having such a good time I decided to stay," says Robles, who escaped a "boring" receptionist job here in Tucson for one that would prove to be considerably more exciting.

And, yes, some of the male police officers were not too happy about females in their midst. "They thought we were spies for the chief," says Robles.

Starting salary was $276 a month. As for their uniforms, "we wore suits and heels and shoulder bags with a nice holster for the gun," says Robles.

"The chief was always after us to get uniforms," says Maguire. "Hymie Myerson, at Myerson's White House, ordered all the uniforms. We said we didn't want to wear them. He said, 'OK, I'll keep telling the chief I ordered them and they haven't come in.'"

Given little direction as to what they should do, the women patrolled in an unmarked car, checking on bars, bus stations and theaters.

Their first day on the job, they wandered into the balcony of what was then called the Paramount theater, where they discovered a man sitting with a rifle on his lap.

"One of us tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to follow us downstairs. He said, 'OK,' " says Maguire. "I was walking down the stairs. He had the rifle in his hands behind me. We couldn't have been more naive."

After backup arrived, they discovered the rifle was loaded — and its owner had escaped a mental institution.

The majority of their calls, however, were of a more routine — and serious — nature, working with abused women, juveniles and sex crimes.

Once, they posed as the wives or girlfriends of detectives during a drug bust. Another time, Maguire served as a decoy, posing as a coed whose sorority house had been getting harassing calls.

She got her man.

Most of the time, the women worked the night shift. "We would get so bored I'd bring my ukulele to work. Alice drove and I played," says Robles.

"We were attached to the detectives' bureau and used their car," says Maguire. "One time they complained that the car smelled of perfume. So we bought the cheapest perfume we could buy and sprayed the whole interior."

Yes, of course their male cohorts got even. "They rubbed Limburger cheese on the hot engine block," says Maguire.

Only once did Maguire pull out a gun. "I was on a domestic-violence call. The man sat there and pulled out a knife. I opened my purse and eased my gun out so he could see it. He put the knife away."

By then Robles had gone to San Francisco, leaving Tucson in early 1953 after about a year on the job. Maguire soldiered on for a few more months — this time with a male partner. "He was a wonderful person," she says.

Married and with her second child on the way, Maguire took a leave of absence in September of '53, seven months into her pregnancy.

But when she tried to return, "the chief told me he did not want me to come back and that I'd be on permanent graveyard."

Twenty years would pass before Tucson would get its next policewoman, in 1973. Today the force numbers 859 male officers and 149 female officers.

Robles returned to Tucson in 1967 and married lawman George Robles the following year. Maguire left Tucson in 1958 and now lives in the wine country north of San Francisco.

Still fast friends, the women see each other a couple of times a year.

And while they now look back at their time at TPD with amusement, both recognize the inherent dangers of the job.

Says Maguire: "I do know that one of the L.A. policewomen who graduated from the academy with me was shot and killed the week after we graduated."

Pioneering women

● Reprints of Bonnie Henry's 1992 book, "Another Tucson," are available for $29.95 from cafepress.com/azstarnet or 1-877-809-1659. The product number is 13596486.

● Bonnie Henry's column appears Sundays in Accent. Reach her at 434-4074 or at bhenry@azstarnet.com or write to 3295 W. Ina Road, Suite 125, Tucson, AZ 85741.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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