Joining the Force

In 1973, Stanford hired its first two female police officers.

September 2023

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Joining the Force

BADGED: Henderson and Whittemore. Photo: Stanford University Archives

The early 1970s were a turning point for women becoming patrol officers, although major departments, from Philadelphia to the California Highway Patrol, were still digging in. Against that national backdrop, in September 1973, Stanford hired its first two female police officers, Kristin Henderson and Debbie Whittemore. Six months into the women’s tenure, the faculty/staff newspaper was still adjusting to the notion, reporting that “both have participated in investigations which required the use of drawn weapons” and that “they underwent 10 weeks of rigorous training—exactly the same as male officers.” 

 “I think our former chief really had a lot of insight and vision,” says Laura Wilson, ’91, who has been chief of the Department of Public Safety since 2002 and was hired by Marvin Herrington, who had also hired Henderson and Whittemore. From the get-go, the two women donned the same style of uniform as their male colleagues, rather than the skirts generally favored by other police departments. 

But, Wilson says, “part of what strikes me is how similar things remain.” She notes the continued dearth of female sworn officers, both on the Stanford force, where they number just three of 20, and nationally. “Hopefully—just as the two who were originally hired 50 years ago signaled to other people that women can do this job and do it well—I serve that role for others,” she says.

Christine Foster is a writer in Connecticut. Email her at stanford.magazine@stanford.edu.

Vintage 1973 Collection

Stanford is 50! It turns out we’re not the only one. Walk with us down memory lane as we sample some of the wonders and horrors of the 1973–74 academic year on the Farm, and in the world around.

Start the Presses

Were Golden

89 Rodins Find a New Home

A Godfather Delivers a Ransom Payment

A Splashy Debut

The Winds of Freedom

SLE Club

‘Until the Birds Took Over the Singing’

The Poet and the Coup

Steps Toward Saving Salamanders Are Set in Motion

A Sequel for Supersonic Flight?

The First Stanford Astronaut Returns from Space

The End of the Nursing Education Era

Keepers of the Flame

50 Years After the Stanford Murders, Three of Four Families Have Answers

A Classic Is Released

A Young Lawyer Wins an Educational Equity Case

Joining the Force


The Axe Is Stolen One Last Time

Fit to Be Tried

For Commencement Speaker, a Watergate Special Prosecutor

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