My daughters' great-grandfather recently told them an amazing tale concerning their great-aunt Roselina Garafalo (I may have the spelling wrong.). She was the first female streetcar driver and the first female NOPD officer. Can you verify if this is true?
I'm sorry to tell you that there is no truth to this story. New Orleans' first "conductorette" was Mary Fischer, hired in 1943. Alice Monahan became the city's first policewoman in 1915. The story of the women who pioneered these and other traditionally male jobs is important.
During World War II, men left their jobs to serve in the armed forces, creating a labor shortage in the U.S., and women were encouraged to take those jobs. Beginning in 1943, women went to work for New Orleans Public Service Inc. (NOPSI), which ran the dozens of streetcar and bus lines in the city. NOPSI first recruited women whose husbands or male relatives had worked for the company before entering the military. The women who went to work there used the men's badges, promising to return them when the war was over. Many women applied for "motorette" and conductorette positions and proudly wore the uniform — a white shirt and blue trousers — of the streetcar operators.
More than 200 women from New Orleans and rural areas throughout the South worked on the streetcars in jobs that paid significantly higher wages than some other businesses. The women were responsible for the same duties as men: impromptu maintenance, collecting transit fares, keeping the cars on schedule and (sadly) enforcing racial segregation.
By February 1946, all of the women employees had been replaced by returning veterans. Most women left their jobs happily, but others were disappointed to go. It would not be until the mid-1970s that women again worked as streetcar operators.
In the early 20th century, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) hired women as "matrons" to handle children, search female suspects or prisoners, and handle a variety of duties at central lockup. Alice Monahan applied for the position of policewoman and was chosen by a mayoral committee. Her job was to improve conditions at Milneburg, a resort on Lake Pontchartrain.
In 1918 Roseada Reynolds was commissioned as New Orleans' first motion picture inspector (charged with telling the police chief which movies needed to be cenored). By the 1920s, women also were working as clerks and switchboard operators. Antoinette Reynolds, Roseada's sister, was hired as a clerk in 1936 and eventually became a desk sergeant. She was commander of the payroll department when she retired in 1967.
In 1950, Irene Chetta was the first woman to pass the New Orleans Civil Service exam and become a policewoman. Claire Olsen Reilly was the first woman to attend the city's police academy, graduating in 1955 as valedictorian of recruit class No. 2. She worked undercover in narcotics and was assigned to work with the Secret Service when President Lyndon B. Johnson and his family visited New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Reilly took the lieutenant's exam and in 1968 became the first woman promoted to lieutenant. Shortly afterward, Reilly was chosen to be the commander of a new policewomen division comprising all academy-graduated women, many of whom were police officers.
In was in 1971 that Carol Hewlett, the first female district commander, convinced Supt. Clarence B. Giarrusso to allow policewomen to wear the same uniform as their male counterparts. Three years later, in 1974, women were assigned to patrol duty. Finally, in 1976, the height requirement for officers of 5 feet 8 inches was eliminated after a lawsuit, and many more women applied to the NOPD.