|April 2002||Volume 4 Number 2|
Remembering A Policewoman Pioneer: Evelyn J. Briggs
Mark Jones, State Archivist
Trooper Evelyn J. Briggs
The March 2, 2002 Hartford Courant obituary read that Evelyn Jennie Briggs, wife of deceased husband Ernest Briggs, had died at 90 in a medical center in Meriden. She was, it continued, one of the first two State Policewomen appointed in November 1942. Recently I had sampled State Police personnel files retaining those of early female and minority troopers. I checked a box list, and indeed, I had saved her file. Since April is Women's History Month, this newsletter's editor encouraged me to write about her.
Evelyn Briggs was born in 1912 in Middletown to Simion VanHyning and Laura Duffy. She graduated from Middletown High School in 1930, worked in the payroll department of the Portland Soap Company, and got married in 1932 to Ernest C. Briggs. After a year in Florida, the couple returned to Connecticut. They lived on Christian Hill in rural Higganaum Village. In 1936 she entered the field of social work. Her area included the towns of Portland, Killingworth, Haddam, Chester, Deep River, Saybrook, and Higganaum.
In her work, Briggs often met State Troopers. One told her about a Civil Service examination for two new policewomen positions, and Briggs made a decision to change careers. Local officials wrote letters of recommendation. One emphasized, "She is very capable and efficient, handles welfare cases wonderfully well, is business like and allows no one to put anything over on her." Another, a local Justice of the Peace, wrote that she "cuts to the heart of the problem" and wasn't "fooled by the blarney offered her."
In early October 1942 Briggs met with the respected Commissioner of the State Police, Edward J. Hickey for an interview. All potential appointees went through this ritual. A copy of the transcript of the interview is in the file. Hickey asked whether Briggs had appeared in court as a witness, and she answered that she had "gone to hearings, juvenile court hearings and with some of my cases." Hickey reminded her that a trooper's hours could fluctuate between "an hour one day and nineteen hours the day after," and Briggs countered, "social work in small towns means being called out at night if necessary." Had she been at the "death bed" of any person outside of her family? Yes, Briggs answered, "I have taken my clients to the bedside of relatives, sometimes in the middle of the night." After the interview, the commissioner dictated for the transcript that she had left a "very good impression." She was "a little soft spoken" but was "rather emphatic" and "apparently" had "the courage of her convictions."
Briggs and Kathryn B. Haggerty were appointed the first State Policewomen on November 1, 1942. She reported for duty in Hartford in the Special Services Department on the second. Immediately both were sent for training at the New York City Police Academy. Over the years she attended workshops on legal medicine, civilian defense, first aid, photography, and small arms. She represented the force at Conferences of Social Agencies held in Bridgeport. She was a crack shot and won awards as a member of the State Policewomen's marksmanship team. While on duty, she carried a blackjack and kept her pistol in a leather briefcase.
Briggs knew she was a pioneer. No, male troopers did not oppose her. The department had decided that, when dealing with women accused of crimes, female troopers were indispensable. By driving an unmarked vehicle and dressing in civilian clothes, Briggs assured women of privacy when arrested or driven to State Police headquarters for questioning. To her fell the duty of informing an accused woman's family of an arrest, another duty believed to be more tactfully carried out by a woman.
Her cases included domestic disturbances, murder, rape, robbery, and sexual offenses. During one Christmas holiday, she was called out on a murder investigation. She believed that policewomen often saw different aspects of a case or interpreted evidence in a different manner than men. Working together, she concluded, male and female troopers were a formidable crime solving team.
Her colleagues recognized her leadership qualities. The number of State Policewomen increased and they formed the Connecticut Policewomen's Association. In 1946 members elected Evelyn Briggs as president.
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