The First Female Deputy Sheriff in California

By Marjorie Newton

The first female Deputy Sheriff in the state of California was Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff Leila Veale. Immediately after the election in which women in California won the right to vote in 1911, Sheriff Richard Veale, who served the county as sheriff for 40 years, asked Governor Hiram Johnson for permission to appoint his daughter as a Deputy Sheriff. Leila was a graduate of Martinez's Alhambra High School in 1909, where she had an outstanding record of achievements.

Among Deputy Veale's duties was cooking the meals for the jailers and the prisoners. She occasionally accompanied fugitives on their return to the Martinez Jail. Deputy Leila received no pay. She continued to serve as a deputy after her marriage to A. Francis Bray, in 1913. Her husband was appointed to the Superior Court and later the District Court of Appeals. His name appears on one of the court buildings.

Today, the highest ranking female in the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department is Assistant Sheriff Elise Warren. Assistant Sheriff Warren rose through the ranks, beginning her employment as a Deputy in April of 1990. She was promoted to Sergeant in 1997, Lieutenant in 2005, and Captain in 2011, before achieving her current assignment. Assistant Sheriff Warren has served in the Main Jail, Investigation, Civil and other units prior to Support Services. She has had different experiences than those of Deputy Veale.

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department also claims to have the first female deputy sheriff in the United States hired in 1912. Margaret Q. Adams remained a deputy in the evidence department at the Los Angeles Courthouse for 35 years, until her retirement in 1947. Deputy Adams was appointed by her sheriff brother-in-law. Her duties were primarily clerical.

In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was passed. Until 1965, women in law enforcement in Contra Costa County were hired as "Deputy Sheriff Matrons". They were paid $2.78 an hour. At the end of the probation period, the salary was increased to $3.13 an hour. An additional 5% was paid for night work. Applicants were between the ages of 21 and 35. They needed to possess a California driver's license, be a US citizen and a resident of the county for a year and be of good moral character. In addition they needed to be able to type 25 words per minute.

A new position was created: Deputy Sheriff - Female. In addition to the requirements for Matron, a high school diploma was required. Applicants had to pass an agility test which included jumping jacks, women's pushups and burpees, for those applicants accepted. Salary began at $628 a month.

In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified by 3 states. The amendment guaranteed equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

In 1973,Santa Clara County hired a matron who is now their Sheriff. Recently, Salinas County advertised Deputy Sheriff Openings for Female Only applicants.

In 1979, Sheriff Rainey assigned the first female deputy to the Crime Prevention Unit. This deputy was one of the first female deputies to do patrol duty and had spent 16 months in the West Pittsburg area. The four year veteran had also served in the Main Jail and in Transportation.

Contra Costa County currently employs 704 sworn officers, 99 of which are female. It also employs many women who are in the non-sworn category. Many of those positions originally were held by men, such as Radio Technician which has evolved into Dispatch, Custodians which are now Institutional Service workers, Criminalists, and Sheriff's Aide. Initially, women were hired only in clerical jobs. The Typist Clerk or Stenographer Clerk has become a Data Entry Operator. In 1945 she was paid $196.00 a month. In 1989, a Data Entry Operator made $1411 a month. The telephone operator position was replaced by Communication Clerks who were then replaced by Dispatch. A Lead Fingerprint Technician in 2002 began her career with the department as a Student Worker in 1990. Over half of the non-sworn positions are filled by women. Many positions are still clerical but many are also technical, financial, and instructional. Where once Leila Bray was the cook for the jail, most Lead Cook jobs today are filled by men.

From Deputy Sheriff Leila Veale Bray to Assistant Sheriff Elise Warren, the women of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office can be proud of their contribution to law enforcement for the past 100 years. The people of Contra Costa County owe a debt of gratitude to both the sworn and the non-sworn women and men of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office.


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