When the Seattle Police Department wouldn’t issue her a uniform, Sylvia Hunsicker defiantly fashioned her own. SPD had welcomed its first policewomen in 1911, but those women worked in offices and couldn’t don badges or other regalia. Hired four years later, Hunsicker, a former city council candidate and a leader of the local suffragette movement, wasn’t having it. She commandeered a men’s uniform and “just extended the male frock down below her knees,” says Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum president Jim Ritter.
Hunsicker wasn’t going to stay indoors either, Ritter says. “I don’t think she liked taking no for an answer.” One of her early beats included the waterfront and train depots, warding over kids who seemed to perpetually find themselves in peril. Newspaper archives abound with headlines of troubled youth—“Girl, 13, Leaves Home in Night,” “Girl Admits Coat Theft”—followed by the investigative work of one “Sylvia Hunsicker, policewoman.” Those same archives reveal an insubordinate streak, as she sustained multiple suspensions, often for defying orders. From almost the moment she joined the force in 1915 until she retired in 1936, Hunsicker used the power of “no” to change the department, blazing a thin blue trail upon which leaders like Carmen Best, SPD’s current and second-ever woman police chief, built on a century later.