Baltimore’s “Lady Law”
It is unique for a city’s first Black officer to be a woman—but that’s precisely what happened in Baltimore, Maryland, early in the 20th century.
In December 1937, Violet Hill Whyte was the first Black officer to be appointed to the Baltimore Police Department. She served with the department for 30 years and rose through the ranks to Lieutenant. For her first beat as an officer, in the northwest district of the city between Pennsylvania Avenue and Dolphin Street, she was not given a gun. Her duties included patrolling the streets and investigating violent crimes including homicides, narcotics cases, assaults, cases of sexual abuse, and robberies.
During her law enforcement career, she was known for her exceptional undercover work, and her experience as a former schoolteacher led her to specialize in working with the youth of her district. She never hesitated to intervene when she noticed students skipping school and earned herself the nickname “Lady Law.” Juvenile Court Judge Charles E. Moylan, Jr. once described Lieutenant White as, “a one-woman police force and one-woman social worker combined.” This passion for child welfare and the betterment of her community greatly influenced her career.
During her service with the Baltimore Police Department, she earned six commendations and numerous awards for her police work. She sat on a number of boards and commissions, many of which concerned issues of women’s rights and the welfare of children and adolescents. In addition to her police work, she was an active volunteer in her community: collecting clothing for prison inmates and making holiday baskets for the needy were among her pursuits for community welfare. Helping needy children remained at the heart of her work in and out of law enforcement, and she was quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying, “It’s with the children that I find I get emotionally involved.” The cases she investigated involving children influenced her to lecture about the epidemic of child abuse and to counsel needy children and their families. In these lectures, she presented a six-point child’s bill of rights which included the right to be born healthy and receive spiritual training, an education, custodial care, protection under child labor laws, and narcotics education.
Whyte, a modest woman, once told the Baltimore Sun, “… Many people told me I wouldn’t last as a policewoman. But I kept well and took every job that any man took as a matter of course—except heavy lifting. I was not inhibited and accepted every case that came my way.” She died in 1980 at the age of 82.
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.