Sitting in an Oklahoma City restaurant earlier this month, three women laughed as they reminisced about their rough and tumble days working for the Oklahoma City Police Department.
Sherry Garcia, Julie Smith and Gladys Loflin are three of the five women who were hired in December 1972 as Oklahoma City's first female police officers.
The other two women were Shirley Conner, of Tuttle, who was too ill to join them that day, and Norma Adams, of Oklahoma City, who died in December.
“We all get together and sometimes you may not think that we are friends — because we can argue over whether the sun is shining or not — but the point of it is that we are,” Smith said. “It is because of the shared experience and we were it.
“Anyone who came after us never became a part of us. It's not that we didn't feel for them or that we didn't like them, it just wasn't the same like the ones I went through recruit school with.”
While Garcia, Smith, Loflin, Conner and Adams were the first women to complete police training and carry a gun, they are not recognized as Oklahoma City's first female police officers. In 1955, a group of women were hired to work traffic and issue tickets.
“What they went through must have been hell. What we went through was hell,” Loflin said. “They were the policewomen of their era. They started opening that door for us to become full-fledged police officers. I just wish they would take credit for that.”
It was November 1972 when then-police Chief Sam D. Watson announced the department would begin hiring female officers.
According to a Nov. 14, 1972, article in The Oklahoman, 47 women applied at police headquarters the day after the announcement was made and many others were turned away and asked to return the next day.
“The line for applying snaked around the whole building,” Garcia said. “There had to have been almost 200 women in line.”
Garcia was a recently divorced, single mother looking for work. Loflin had moved from California with her husband and was working at the Berry House juvenile detention center. Smith — who at 22 was the youngest — worked at Pinkerton as a security guard.
“One of the other security guards told me about the hiring announcement and then he told me if there was any woman who could do the job, it was me, so I applied,” Smith said.
Others did not think a woman could do the job.
“I'd hate to have a frail little girl back me up when the bullets are flying,” an Oklahoma City police officer said, according to the newspaper article.
Many of the police officers' wives picketed City Hall, saying the recruitment of female officers would lead to more divorces among officers, Smith said.
The applicants were interviewed by secretaries, who asked how much they drank, if they smoked, if they had a boyfriend and how often they went out. After the initial interview, the women said they were polygraphed for hours.
“I think the reason why we all got hired was because none of us had a history with drugs. That was definitely a feat back in the '60s and the '70s,” Smith said.
Garcia found out she had been hired when a television reporter asked her what she would do to change the department.
“What a stupid question to ask. I had no idea what to say. I think I may have said something about the curtains,” Garcia said.
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We were on the cusp of change and we didn't even realize it. If one of us messed up in any way, there would not be any policewomen because they would use that as an excuse to hire no more. That we had to make it and we had to make it stepping on glass and stepping around obstacles.”
One of five women who were Oklahoma City's first female police officers