Dorothy Mowins, police department trailblazer, dies at 74
She loved her work and was Syracuse's first female sergeant and lieutenant.

November 18, 2003

By Sue Weibezahl
Staff writer

 

When Dorothy Mowins started working at the Syracuse police department, there was no such thing as a female officer.

She worked as a dispatcher for three years and liked the work so much that when women were eligible to take the exam, she signed up. She later became the department's first female sergeant and lieutenant.

Mowins, who retired in 1987, died Nov. 14 in Colorado. She was 74.

When Mowins became an officer, "It wasn't because she was a women's libber or was setting out to prove anything," said her daughter Kathleen Hassoldt, of Lone Tree, Colo. "She did it to survive."

When her husband left her with two young girls, Mowins went to work and quickly realized how much she enjoyed it, said daughter Barbara Edwardson, who splits her time between Colorado and Oregon.

But it wassometimes difficult for the men of the department to adjust to a female colleague, her daughters said.

"She had to pay dues to the PBA (Police Benevolent Association) but wasn't allowed to attend the meetings or vote on issues that directly concerned her," Hassoldt said.

Mowins finally had enough and unexpectedly attended a meeting to complain. A newspaper account the following day referred to several "enlightened officers speaking up for her," but Mowins told her daughters a different story.

"She threatenedto pull her gun if they didn't let her in," Hassoldt said. "My mom was very feisty."

At the time she became an officer, and for years afterward, male police officers cited in news stories were referred to by their rank.

Dorothy was "Mrs. Mowins."

"Times sure have changed and I think she helped that along," Hassoldt said.

Mowins started with the department in 1953. Even in the 1970s, her uniform consisted of a regulation shirt and a skirt. By the time she retired, more than a dozen other women had joined the department.

"I remember her very well," said Deputy Police Chief William Hanna. "She was highly regarded and well respected. We always knew she was a woman, but she was one of the guys."

The crew she supervised dubbed itself "Dottie's Darlins'," he said.

In 1971, the San Diego police department tried to claim it was the first department in the nation to have a female sergeant. That account was quickly disputed by Syracuse officials who pointed out that Mowins had been a sergeant here for seven years by the time San Diego appointed its first.

Mowins' daughters said their mother loved police work and took it seriously. They recall many holidays when Mowins would pop into their grandparents' house, in uniform, to catch a quick meal with her family. It was the same on nights and weekends.

When sheretired, she moved to Colorado to be closer to her daughters and two granddaughters, Adriene and Stephanie, whom "she spoiled like crazy," Edwardson said.

She and family members also traveled, their journeys including an Alaskan cruise and visits to the Grand Canyon, the Badlands of South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park and Monument Valley, her daughters said.

She went to the emergency room about a week ago with complications from diabetes. Doctors attempted surgery three days later but realized a clot in her artery was beyond repair and would prove fatal, Hassoldt said.

Her family broke the news to her when she came out of anesthesia. For the next six hours, she reminisced with friends and family and spent time saying goodbye.

"To all of us, she was the best," Hassoldt said. "We were always really proud of her. She had a huge heart; she was always helping people. She lived the life that most of us think we should."