One of the first female police officers in Seattle, Washington and leader in the suffrage movement
This is a little post about a woman who found a way to buck the system and to be part of it, even if that meant sewing her own uniform as a policewoman. The city needed her more than they knew. And her story isn’t lost but is an inspiration for those who followed in her footsteps.
In November of 2010, Hunsicker was one of 100 women honored by the University of Washington’s Suffrage Centennial Gala for their work in the suffragist movement and other outstanding achievements. The gala celebrated 100 years of women’s suffrage in the state of Washington, a movement that lasted over 50 years.
Sylvia Aurland Hunsicker was born in 1870 in Minnesota and died at the age of 83 in October of 1953. She married and later divorced John Hunsicker and with him had one daughter, Avis E Hunsicker, in 1899. In addition to making her place in a male-dominated field, she is noted for taking on leadership roles in the suffrage movement.
In 1910, Hunsicker served as General Chairman of precinct workers, working closely with the Washington Equal Suffrage Association and other suffrage leaders in Washington, notably Emma Smith DeVoe and Cora Smith Eaton. Hunsicker encouraged her fellow suffragists to engage with voters by handing out pamphlets for their cause and encouraging those at the voting booths to stay involved in politics. Hunsicker also served the president of The Seattle Council of Women Voters. The Seattle Council of Women Voters was a nonpartisan coalition of women from voting states. Here, she was responsible for organizing meetings of local working women to speak about the importance of voting. Even after the vote was won for women in the state of Washington, she continued to encourage leaders in women’s movements in nearby states. When white property-owning women won the vote in 1910, an emphasis was placed on the importance of women’s perspectives in politics. Hunsicker even ran as council woman in 1912, emphasizing in her campaign her passion for city affairs.
Sylvia Hunsicker was hired by the City as a Registration Clerk in 1911. In 1915 she transferred to the Police Department. She was the only woman in the Police Department who wore a uniform; lore states she sewed her own in 1925. Her independence was a hallmark of her career. She was discharged or suspended more than once. In 1917 one of the reasons cited was “engaging in work other than that assigned to her.”, around the 1910s and ‘20s, policewomen were assigned to the Women’s Protective Division and their main job was to do rescue work of children and patrol dances. They always had to travel in pairs and earned the nickname “The Purity Squad.”
Here’s the rest of her story! I just love strong women who make a difference.
Hunsicker always would try to step out of her gender norms and continue to compete head to head with the male officers. During the depression years in the thirties, the Seattle city government ran out of money. The government jobs such as police and fire department received vouchers instead of their paychecks. They would have to go out and find people who would take and cash the vouchers because there was no money in the city treasury to redeem them. Sylvia Hunsicker who had money, helped keep a bankrupt city afloat during the Depression by cashing police paychecks with her own money. She retired in 1936 at age of 67 and to this day she still inspires other women on how she helped pave the way for female officers.