Headlines of Yore

The first woman police officer in Philadelphia history was a prudish ‘dance cop’ afraid of jazz

Marguerite Walz was part of a racist 1920s movement worried jazz would erode “decency” and encourage race-mixing and promiscuity.

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The Philadelphia Police Department is making a push to increase the number of women in its ranks, with a pledge last year to boost the count of women from 22% to 30% of sworn officers by the year 2023. The department is already way above the national average (just 12%). It’s also currently led by a woman, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.

But the history of women’s integration into the PPD is littered with asterisks.

The first woman to lead the department? Interim Commissioner Christine Coulter, who ascended to the position in 2019 only because her predecessor stepped down after failing to respond to sexual harassment complaints.

That promotion-by-default came a half-century after more than a dozen federal lawsuits forced the Police Department to hire more women. In the late 1970s, then-Mayor Frank Rizzo’s administration settled a suit by Ofc. Penelope Brace, who leveraged her win to become the city’s first female detective.

And the first woman to ever hold a PPD badge was a racist prude who was afraid the loose dance styles brought on by the rise of jazz music would lead to race-mixing and promiscuity.

Scroll through the thread below to hear more about Marguerite Walz, the infamous “dance cop” of Philadelphia in the 1920s.

[Ed note: Some of the information and clippings in the thread are sourced from the Association for Public Art, the Philadelphia Dance History Journal, and the PhillyHistory Blog.]

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