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Va. women's auxiliary officer recalls work in '40s

Thursday - 7/26/2012, 3:14pm  ET

The Roanoke Times

ROANOKE, Va. - Much has changed in law enforcement in the 80 years since the fledgling agency that eventually grew into the Virginia State Police was established in 1932.

Since then, bootlegging, rampant license plate fraud and coal strike unrest have largely given way to drug interdiction, cyberthreats and counterterrorism.

But the trooper's pledge chanted by police academy graduates today is the same one Evelyn Carr, 95, of Roanoke recited on Christmas Eve 1942, when she became one of the first women ever to join the ranks of state police.

"I shall aid those in danger or distress, and shall strive always to make my State and Country a safer place in which to live," the graduates declare. "I shall wage unceasing war against crime in all its forms, and shall consider no sacrifice too great in the performance of my duty."

And while their uniforms had skirts instead of pants, Carr and her classmates were sworn law officers of the commonwealth.

"We had full authority as far as police work was concerned," Carr said.

Except in one way.

"Having a gun, that was the only thing," Carr said. "They wouldn't let us shoot."


The United States entered World War II in 1941, and a year later the need to replace workers lost to military service for a time swept away the social conventions that had kept women at home. Women were called on to fill not only civilian jobs in factories and offices, but military jobs, too.

According to the nonprofit Women in Military Service Memorial, nearly 400,000 women served in special branches of the military formed in WWII to fill noncombat roles that allowed more men to be sent to the front lines.

The same labor shortages affected policing across the country, and in Virginia, where more than 300,000 residents went to war, according to the Library of Virginia.

In 1942 the authorized strength of the state police was 248 men, but more than half had gone to war or left for better paying jobs. Just over 100 sworn officers remained for police duties, which in those days included patrol work and the testing and licensing of automobile drivers.

In October 1942, The Roanoke Times reported that then state police Superintendent Maj. C.W. Woodson was considering the "advisability of establishing a Women's Auxiliary State Police service, members of which would serve as examiners for the operators' license section, which handles examinations for drivers' licenses."

By Dec. 9, 25 women including Carr were in training in Chesterfield County. There they took classes in physical fitness, military courtesy and traffic codes, and were required to attend three hours of church every Sunday, according to the original training manual kept in Richmond.

The women graduated on Christmas Eve, and were given four days of leave before taking up their posts across the state, including in Roanoke and Christiansburg.


Carr was posted back to her native Alexandria, and her dear friends and fellow police officers Doris Keller and Annie Mae VanLear were assigned to nearby Arlington. The three women lived together in Carr's Alexandria house during their service, and became lifelong friends.

The women officers didn't chase speeding motorists or break up fights like their male counterparts. For a monthly salary of $100 each, they did other white knuckle tasks, such as climbing into unfamiliar vehicles with new drivers eager to qualify for their first operator's license.

Carr recalled one male examiner in the Alexandria office who, rather than ride with novices, leaned out an upstairs window and watched them drive around the block before giving them a license.

"But we had to climb in with them, and they went where we told them," Carr said.

Automobiles of that period had no seat belts, no antilock brakes and no air bags. Carr said she spent two years in that job, tempting fate several times.

The female officers weren't always treated fairly, either. Carr recalled having failed the son of a local police chief after the boy tested for a driver's license.

"He just couldn't drive," Carr said.

But his father complained to Carr's supervisor, and Carr said she was transferred from the Alexandria office to Arlington.

While some memories of her service have faded, decades later Carr said her last ride as a state police examiner remains vivid in her mind.

"The thing that really got me out of there was a woman who rode me into the field and down into a house. That was enough," Carr said.

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