Brooklyn’s Police Matrons

New York Police Department Police Matron Annie Boylan,

New York Police Department Police Matron Annie Boylan, 1909. 2008.33.4. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.

This is the sixth in a series of posts on the records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel, which are currently being processed with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.

Of all the cases found in the records of the Corporation Counsel, the most common may be for unpaid salaries owed from the city. The majority of these claims arose from typical municipal positions such as clerks, firemen, and laborers from various departments. Occasionally, I will come across something less common, such as the Department of Health biologist who worked at a laboratory in Rockville Centre. But by far the most interesting and unique salary claim I have found was for a position I had never heard of before: the police matron.

In 1882, a New York state senator introduced a bill calling for the appointment of police matrons to “take charge and care of female prisoners or lodgers and make necessary searches of clothing.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “the measure has been earnestly advocated by many Christian women who have had knowledge of the need of such employes.”[1] That year the first Brooklyn police matrons were appointed and supported not by the city, but by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union[2], which was one of the largest and most influential charitable organizations of the Progressive Era. These early matrons served a role closer to that of a counselor than prison warden.  In May of 1882 Brooklyn’s first matron, H. F. Crocker, reported that she had visited 142 ladies “from girls of 14 to women of 60 and upward; while none of these have been passed by without a word of advice or warning … my efforts are chiefly directed to saving the younger portion, who have just commenced a course of vice and intemperance, or those who evince any desire to lead a better life.”[3]

By 1888 the governor officially passed the police matrons’ bill, which provided that every city must designate at least one station house to confine female prisoners, and appoint “no more than two respectable women” to oversee them.[4] It was hard work – a 1908 New York Times headline reads: “Police Matron’s Job Is Not a Sinecure – What with Preventing Suicides and Lodging Vagrants Her Life’s a Busy One.”[5]

Claim of Catharine Fitzpatrick, 1901;

Claim of Catharine Fitzpatrick, 1901; Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society

These new police matrons were now employees of the city.  Catherine Fitzgerald, for instance, was hired by the City of Brooklyn in July 1892. She was paid $800 per annum through 1897.  In 1898, Brooklyn was officially annexed by the City of New York, and her salary was reduced to $720 per annum. This reduction in salary is the basis for numerous claims found in the records of the Corporation Counsel.

This type of claim will be of interest to researchers studying the 1898 consolidation of the City of New York. The consolidation affected all levels of the civil service, from street cleaners to department commissioners. The claim of police matron Catherine Fitzgerald can be used to illustrate the growing influence of the Progressive Movement in the late 19th and early 20th century American cities and the increasing number of working women who populated them.

The records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel will be open to researchers by the end of this year.

About John Zarrillo

I am an archivist at Brooklyn Historical Society. My job is to make the historical records of Brooklyn openly available to students, scholars, and anyone else interested in the borough's past!
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