Langley’s Bonnie Schmidt was one of the early wave of women recruited by the RCMP in the 1970s.
Her first-hand experience indirectly led her to writing her first book, Silenced: The untold story of the fight for equality in the RCMP.
When women were first allowed into the force in 1974, they weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms, and they certainly weren’t treated exactly like the male officers.
Schmidt avoided one of the most controversial and frustrating aspects of service for the first women Mounties: the uniform.
“I was in plainclothes,” Schmidt said. She was hired for a special surveillance unit.
“They hired a bunch of people who didn’t look like police officers,” she said. “I never did carry a purse.”
The purse was, very briefly, an official part of a female Mountie’s uniform, and the place where they were expected to keep their guns.
That plan didn’t survive long, and was ditched before the first women graduated. It was a major safety issue for police officers.
“It took about a year before they got rid of the heeled shoes,” Schmidt said.
But the last of the three most detested pieces, the alternate hat for women, wasn’t done away with until 1990.
Silenced goes back a century before the 1974 decision on allowing women Mounties, to the origins of the force itself.
Schmidt looks at how the RCMP was formed not just to do a job, but to uphold a particular image, one that for most of its history was ruggedly masculine.
She looks into the history of early women in policing, which goes back a full century. However, many early women police officers were not considered “real” police. They were meter maids, matrons who dealt with female prisoners, or they were assigned to deal with women and children only.
But still, the Vancouver Police Department hired its first woman in 1912.
“The RCMP was particularly late,” said Schmidt.
The character of the force was quite different.
“It was very paramilitary, that’s what a lot of people don’t realize,” she said.
The addition of women trainees came at the same time as a host of other reforms, including loosening restrictions on male RCMP officers’ rights to marry without permission from their superiors.
The first women were seen with great scepticism by some of their male colleagues.
Schmidt starts Silenced with an anecdote about Const. Beverly MacDonald, who was a newly minted Mountie posted to Salmon Arm in 1975.
One day her cruiser got a flat near a local bar. She calmly called it in and changed the tire. When she finished, she got a round of applause from the crowd in the bar. She was also startled when her fellow officers popped up from behind a nearby bush to join in.
There was a lot of that kind of attitude early on, Schmidt said. Some RCMP detachments and towns welcomed the new women officers. But some weren’t sure the new recruits were up to the job. “They were just waiting to see what the women were made out of,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt’s book covers a wide variety of issues in the force’s history from sexual harassment to one of the first women shot in the line of duty with the RCMP.