The Early Policewomen of Davenport

On this final day of Women’s History Month, in keeping with the National Women’s History Project’s 2016 theme, we honor Davenport women in public service. Those who worked for the Davenport Police Department over 50 years ago are in our view this year.

A candidate for the job of Police Woman in the 1950’s could expect her character, age, and body type to undergo scrutiny:


The successful applicant in this case was Davenport native Helen Sohl. While our 21st-century sensibility refrains from passing judgement on her level of attractiveness, it will applaud the fact that she was hired at the same rate of pay as patrolman Ernest Stanley, appointed along with her on July 16, 1955. (1)


Helen Sohl - Uniform
Photo Courtesy of the Davenport Police Historic Association
Helen Sohl
Photo Courtesy of the Davenport Police Historic Association

Sohl was the third Police Woman to be hired by the Department. She was preceded by Mrs. Inger Estes and Mrs. Minnie Heim. (2)

Mrs. Heim, a 35 year old widow at the time of her hire, served less than a year — from April 8, 1930 to February 1, 1931. Presumably, her marriage to fellow officer Clarence Niles on December 23, 1930 precipitated her resignation. Her name appears in the Police Roll Call Register for January 1931 as “Heim-Niles,” just below her new husband’s. (3)

Mrs. Inger Estes served the Davenport Police Department from 1922 to 1948 as the city’s first Police Woman.

From 1889 up until the time of Estes’ appointment, only the Police Matron position was held by women. Mrs. Estes was appointed on April 15, 1922 after successfully passing the police examination. (4) The position of Police Matron still existed and was held by Mrs. Tillie Boettcher.

Davenport Police Chief W. H. Claussen described Mrs. Estes’ duties as including the general supervision of dance halls within the city and other police jobs in which a woman was preferred to be involved over a man. (5)

When Mrs. Estes took the position she was 41 years old. She was widowed in 1918 when her husband Howard passed away. Howard had briefly served as a Davenport Police Officer from 1905 – 1906.

The job of a female police officer has changed greatly since Inger Estes, Minnie Heim, and Helen Sohl stepped into their respective positions. One can only imagine what those early days were like as they helped to develop a new area for women in public service.


(1) Police Roll-Call Register, City of Davenport, July 1955, Accession #1990-04 Davenport Police Department Records, Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center, Davenport Public Library.

(2) Images courtesy of the Davenport Police Historic Association.

(3) Police Roll-Call Register, City of Davenport, January 1931, Accession #1990-04 Davenport Police Department Records, Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center, Davenport Public Library.

(4) Police Roll-Call Register, City of Davenport, April 1922, Accession #1990-04 Davenport Police Department Records, Richardson Sloan Special Collections Center, Davenport Public Library.

(5) Davenport Democrat and Leader, April 13, 1922. Pg. 8

(posted by Katie, Cristina, and Amy D.)

We Mustache This Question: The 1884 Davenport Police Department

As we’ve mentioned before, this year marks the 175th anniversary of the Davenport Police Department.   In previous posts, we’ve shared some of the historical information and resources in our collections about and from the Department, and even cleared up a mystery or two.

But one mystery continues to elude us.

This photograph is of the 1884 Davenport police department, posed in front of the first station, which still stands at 130 West 5th Street.*

1894 Police DeptWhen we studied this beautiful image, we noticed something. All of the police officers have facial hair—most appearing to prefer mustaches of the handlebar variety—except for one.

See the third officer from the left, just past the tree?

1894 Police Dept lineupHis face is bare.

Along with this image, the photography studio—Hastings, White, and Fisher of Davenport—also did individual portraits of the officers.

It was easy to find our man:

1894 Officer 10Unfortunately, none of our resources list the badge numbers of officers, or provide physical descriptions. So we don’t know the name of the officer, nor will we ever know if his shaven state was a personal fashion choice, a physical limitation, or simply the visage of a new hire who hadn’t yet succumbed to peer pressure.

If our curiosity gets the better of us, we may do a brief search of our records for a rule about police officers being required to produce a mustache or beard within six months of employment.  But without a name, we won’t be able to search out city council minutes to see if this officer was given special dispensation.

Regardless, if anyone can help us identify this gentleman, or any of his fellow officers in the group photograph, we would be grateful for the information!


*This building now houses Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Mississippi Valley.


(posted by Sarah)

A Gold Star – or Badge: The Davenport Police Department’s 175th Anniversary

We were excited to see an article in the January 16, 2014 Quad City Times about the Davenport Police Department’s 175th Anniversary. What a monumental occasion.

In celebration, current officers are sporting badges reminiscent of those worn by their predecessors in the late 1800s. What a wonderful idea!

It seems like a fun time to bump up an older blog we wrote about the mystery of who the first Marshal of Davenport was. We invite our readers to come in to Special Collections to explore our wonderful resources – and maybe solve a few more mysteries for us!

Maybe we could even call this a Thursday Throwback? Enjoy If At First You Don’t Know.




Marshal-ing our Resources

Recently, we explained how we uncovered that the man we—and everyone else—had thought was the first City Marshal of Davenport . . . wasn’t.

But this had us researching what the City Marshal—a position that no longer exists—originally did, and when he stopped doing it.

Luckily, a full range of shelving in our archive is filled with cartons full of City Council papers!

According to several documents, the City Council did a major update on ordinances and job expectations in 1866—and the position of City Marshal, as it happens, was updated quite a bit.

Prior to that year, the Marshal was the official head of the police force, whose responsibilities included upholding and enforcing city ordinances and keeping the peace. When needed, the Marshal was also expected to collect taxes for the city.

But after September 1866, the Marshal’s duties were moved into tax collecting, building inspection, wharf security, and the regulation of weights and measures in the city to avoid corruption to name a few duties. He could still arrest people, but every day police enforcement would no longer be his main job.

In his place, the Chief of Police position became the official head of the police force. Interestingly, we find in the 1863 Davenport City Directory Mr. Daniel H. Severance listed as Deputy Marshal and Chief of Police while James W. Means is listed as City Marshal. 

It is beginning to appear that the separation of the duties of City Marshal had begun a few years prior to 1866, but wasn’t officially written into the ordinances until that year. 

We certainly aren’t done trying to find when the title of Chief of Police came into existence. We are hoping more documents in the City Council papers will shed light on this question. 

What is clear is that these ordinance changes in 1866 helped to create the Davenport Police Department as we know it today.

Police Chief Doc
November 8, 1866–Daniel H. Severance is sworn in as the Police Chief of Davenport, Iowa

(posted by Sarah and Amy D.)

Remembering Police Officer James W. Means

James Wilson Means was born in Pennsylvania around 1824, reared and married in Ohio, and then settled in Davenport around 1855 with his young family.  By the spring of 1883, Mr. Means was a respected officer with the Davenport Police Department. 

Early in the morning on May 17, 1883 Officer Means was patrolling the dusty streets of downtown.  Passing by a saloon on the corner of Fifth and Perry Streets,  he encountered and arrested an intoxicated man by the name of John McAuliffe.  The pair began to walk the two blocks to the police station on the corner of Fifth and Main Streets. 

One block away from the station, at the corner of Fifth and Brady, Mr. McAuliffe, who was not wearing handcuffs, grabbed part of an iron fence and refused to let go.  A scuffle ensued and grocer Ed Moore, who was walking nearby,  heard the two men struggling.  He ran to the police department and alerted Officer E. A. Tilebein of the commotion.

As Mr. Moore was on his way to the police department for help, Officer Means finally pried Mr. McAuliffe off the iron fence and they once again began to walk toward the station.  But after only a few feet, Officer Means collapsed on the street.  Saloon owner P. J. Smith saw Officer Means fall and ran to the police department for assistance. 

According to witnesses, Mr. McAuliffe looked down at Officer Means before turning and walking up Brady Street.  Several business owners and pedestrians rushed to assist Officer Means.  Officer Tilebein arrived, instructed those nearby to call a doctor and went in pursuit of Mr. McAuliffe.  He was caught one block away and quickly taken to the police station*.

As more officers arrived, the stricken man was carried back to the station on a stretcher.  The doctor arrived quickly, but Officer Means died before reaching the station.   An autopsy was performed and the cornor concluded that heart disease or a heart attack was the cause of death.

The city went into mourning. 

Mrs. Elizabeth Means, his wife of thirty-five years, was called home from a daughter’s out of town residence where she had been visiting.  She was joined by their four children at the family home at 219 East Twelfth Street where the funeral took place the following afternoon.

During the years he had lived in Davenport, Mr. Means had served as City Marshal,** as a member of the Board of Supervisors of Scott County, as a private watchman, a special policeman, and an officer with the Davenport Police Department.  He was also a member of the former Fire King Volunteer Engine Company, State Lodge of United Workers, and Davenport Lodge of Odd Fellows.   His  funeral was well attended by citizens, police departments, and fraternal and volunteer organizations. 

After religious services in his home, Mr. Means’ coffin was escorted by family and a large procession to Oakdale Memorial Cemetery.  The escort was headed by Davenport Police Chief Kessler, Marshal Miller of Rock Island, and Marshal Kittleson of Moline. Following behind these officials were every available officer from the Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline Police Departments.  Members of Mr. Means’ various fraternal and volunteer organizations brought up the rear.

 The procession walked from Brady Street, to Locust Street, to Grand Avenue where everyone boarded street cars bound for Oakdale Cemetery.  Once at Oakdale, the funeral concluded with burial and honors by the Odd Fellowship and the order of United Workman.*

Officer Means was not the first, nor the last, officer to die while on duty at the Davenport Police Department.  While his death was health related, we remember Officer Means and all the officers who have given of themselves for our safety and protection during National Police Week 2011 (May 15 – 21).

Davenport Police Officers Killed in the Line of Duty:

Police Officer Emil Arthur Speth – Died January 26, 1917

Police Officer Bernard Herman Geerts – Died July 16, 1928

Detective Sergeant William Hans Jurgens – Died July 16, 1958

Police Officer Michael Lee Farnsworth – Died December 5, 1971 


*The Davenport Daily Gazette, May 22, 1883 on Pg. 6 noted that Chief Kessler had released Mr. McAuliffe on Friday, May 18th.  Kessler felt the “…sad circumstances surrounding the case were sufficient to impress him deeper than any legal punishment.”  Mr. McAuliffe was reported to be from rural Wilton, Iowa.  A town not to far from Davenport.  He was not known to have been in any trouble with the police before the morning of May 17th.

**In 1862

The above information was acquired from the Davenport Daily Gazette & the Davenport Democrat newspapers dated May 17, 18 & 19, 1883.

(posted by Amy D.)

A Moment to Remember: Armistice Day, 1925

The ghosts and goblins were gone and local turkeys were still being fattened up in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner. But Davenporters, and most of the world, were about to pause in their holiday preparations on to remember those who fought and sacrificed everything in the Great War.

Armistice Day in 1925 was both a celebration and memorial to November 11, 1918 , the day a peace treaty was signed creating a cease fire, which led to the end of a war that had devastated countries and killed an estimated 16 million people, military and civilian, wounding an estimated 21 million more.

The 11th fell on a Wednesday that year; local businesses and schools on both sides of the Mississippi closed for the day. In Davenport, the day began with a “monster street parade”* that began at the Scott County Courthouse at 9:30 a.m. and traveled through the downtown business district.

Officers from the Davenport Police Department led the start of the parade that was estimated to be over a mile long and contain representatives from nearly every organization in the city. This included seven large bands, hundreds of children (from the Turner Societies, Orphans Home, Boy & Girl Scouts, R.O.T.C., and more), and veterans from the G.A.R. (Civil War), Spanish-American War, and the World War (as World War I was known at that time).** Those who could wore their uniforms and followed their colors as thousands of spectators paid their respects and gentlemen removed their hats.

The parade wound its way through the streets until it ended at the Levee shortly before 11:00 a.m. Spectators followed the parade and thousands of people lined the Davenport levee and turned to face the east. At 10:45 a.m. a French 75 millimeter gun was fired in a 21 gun salute.

At 11:00 a.m. the gun ceased firing and a bugle played by Spanish-American War veteran Frank Ruefer sounded roll call. Then gun fire erupted from both sides of the river—Rock Island had its own parade and levee memorial—and factory whistles filled the air in memory of the celebration that had taken place seven years before.

The celebration was far from finished. From the levee at the end of Main Street, the crowd moved to the Davenport side of the Rock Island Arsenal Bridge where the first Gold Star Iowa highway marker was unveiled. The seven foot high plague was dedicated to local teacher Marion Crandell, the first American woman killed in active service during the Great War. Pupils from St. Katherine’s School, where Miss Crandell had taught, were among those present to honor their former French teacher.***

By 11:30 a.m., the Davenport Fire Department was demonstrating aerial ladder use and life saving techniques to an estimated 15,000 interested onlookers. Drill team competitions, street dancing to live music, business open houses, and a football game between St. Ambrose and Notre Dame Reserves filled the afternoon hours.

The celebrations continued into the night. At 8:30 p.m., the Armistice Ball opened first at the Coliseum and then at the Eagles’ Danceland and the Hotel Blackhawk Gold Room. There was even an American Legion Armistice Day Beauty Contest held during the ball, with twenty-eight swimsuit-clad participants traveling between the dance sites.  Ten contestants were eliminated at each site before the winner of the contest, nineteen-year old Dorothy Eckmann, was crowned Miss Davenport at the Gold Room celebration.^ This certainly gave a “Roaring Twenties” twist to the day’s traditional events!

Eighty-one Scott County men and Miss Marion Crandell died while serving our country in World War I. We remember their sacrifice and the bravery of all who have served, fought, and sacrificed, on this Veteran’s Day.

(posted by Amy D.)


* The Daily Times, November 10, 1925, Pg. 2.

**The Daily Times, November 11, 1925, Front Page.

***Davenport Democrat and Leader, November 11, 1925, Pg. 15.

^ The Daily Times, November 12, 1925, Front Page.

The 911 of 1889

On the afternoon of February 8, 1889, the alarm at telephone patrol box number 3 at Front Street between Main and Brady Streets was sounded by an officer on patrol.  It was the first alarm sounded on the week-old system that could be looked upon as a the nineteenth century’s version of 911. 

The Democrat-Gazette reported that same evening on the front page that within four minutes of the call, the police chief, the patrol driver, and two policemen arrived at the scene in the new patrol wagon purchased to go along with the system.  Upon arrival, the officers assisted in the arrest of a reportedly unruly and argumentative gentleman.  The speed of arrival was in part due to the talented horses purchased to pull the patrol wagon.  Driver Sherman Perry had trained the two horses to quickly move on their own into harnessing position upon hearing the alarm sound in the patrol barn.  This, according to the article, allowed the horses to be hooked up and ready within 90 seconds.

As early as July of 1888,  the Davenport City Council began working on implementing the new system.  The Police Committee  purchased the equipment in October for a cost of $45 per phone box.  An additional box was purchased the following month.   The committee also negotiated pricing with the phone company and found locations for all boxes.  A new patrol rig and two horses, as mentioned above, were then purchased.  A phone/alarm was also added to the stable area so the patrol driver (and apparently the horses) would hear the call sound. 

The call boxes were most likely of heavy cast iron and would have been mounted on a stand-alone pole or attached to an existing structure.  Keys were carried by officers on patrol.  If the officer needed assistance he inserted the key into the front of the box.  The door opened and the officer picked up a hand telephone, cranked the handle once and waited for the station to answer.  Other keys were given to local (and obviously trusted) citizens who lived near the boxes.  They were to assist individuals in need with the phone if a patrol officer was not available. The names of these individuals were printed in the newspaper along with the article.  Since help could be needed day or night, it makes one wonder if anyone thought twice before agreeing to be a citizen key holder!

Beside the eleven box locations and the names and addresses of the citizen key holders, the newspaper article also covered proper phone usage during an emergency call.  Pointers included standing with your mouth six to ten inches from the mouthpiece while speaking in an ordinary voice (no shouting please) and remembering to hang up the phone after use so the battery did not die.

What were the intrepid citizen key holders to report?  The list included disturbances, suspicious characters, tramps, nuisances, defective sidewalks, and fires.  I think we can see one item in particular that our present-day 911 operators wouldn’t appreciate being called about!

On a side note, there is at least one old patrol box still known to exist from the city of Davenport.  Kept by a local historical society, it unfortunately does not have a key.  Until it is opened, the date of the device cannot be ascertained.  If it ever is opened, maybe we will be able to get some pictures of the inside and add a Part II to this blog article!

(posted by Amy D.)

A Quiet Salute to a Friend: Officer Michael Farnsworth

On December 5, 1971, five men entered the Quality Motel on Main Street and forced their way into the room of Davenport Police Patrolman Leon Washington. The men hit Officer Washington and tied him up, then stole three automatic pistols, a revolver, and a shotgun. It is possible that the men also tried to rob the motel offices—in any case, an alarm went off, alerting the police.

Patrolman Sam L. Raley and his partner Patrolman Michael Farnsworth, who had joined the department in August, were among the first officers to arrive on the scene. They observed four men fleeing from the motel and tried to stop them. The suspects started shooting and the police returned fire.

Patrolman Raley was lucky—three bullets just missed him. Patrolman Farnsworth wasn’t. The twenty-nine year old man died of a gunshot wound to the head shortly after being rushed to St. Luke’s Hospital.

The police, joined by Scott County deputies and five squads from the Iowa Highway Patrol, cordoned off a two block area and searched the motel and surrounding buildings. Four suspects were arrested and charged with first degree murder.

A continuous honor guard of uniformed police officers stood at either end of the casket as more than 400 people visited Runge Mortuary to pay their respects to Michael Farnsworth, the first Davenport Police Officer to be killed in the line of duty since 1958.*

Donations for the Farnsworth family were sent to the Police station by people all over the Quad-Cities—over $800 was collected in two days. A clothing store offered to give Mrs. Farnsworth a dress for the funeral. The city paid the funeral expenses, and Davenport Memorial Park donated two burial plots to the family—a gift that was usually given only to war veterans killed in action.

The funeral, held at the First Presbyterian Church, was attended by almost 200 police officers, active and retired, from as far away as Dubuque, Iowa, and Galesburg, Illinois. All members of the Davenport Police Department and Fire Department, barring those on shift duty, were present, including Patrolman Leon Washington.

“His death in responding to the Call of duty deeply touches us all,” said Reverend Dr. Donald Blackstone. “[We must] increase out respect for, and appreciated of, and cooperation with out law enforcement officers and agencies. . . if we will seriously undertake and implement these changes, the death of Michael Farnsworth will not be in vain.”**

After the service, a double line of police officers formed and an honor guard of six officers in full dress uniform escorted the coffin as the pallbearers carried it to the hearse. One of these pallbearers was Sam Raley.

Officers stood at attention long the route to the cemetery, which led past the Police Station, its doors draped in black. Flags all over the city were flown at half mast. Once the procession reached the cemetery, officers lined the path from the hearse to the gravesite.

Davenport police officers are not often lost to us in the line of duty, though they willingly put themselves at risk for us every day. Perhaps it shouldn’t take a funeral to remember how important they are to our community?

*Detective William Jurgens was shot while coming to the aid of another officer on July 16, 1958.

**Arpy, Jim. “Hundred Mourn Slain Officer,” Times-Democrat, December 9, 1971, p.1.

Sources Used:

Arpy, Jim. “Hundred Mourn Slain Officer,” Times-Democrat, December 9, 1971, p.1.

“Shooting of Officer at Motel Follows Holdup,” Times-Democrat, 6Dec1971, p.1

“Quiet Salute to a Friend,” Times-Dmeocrat, 8Dec1971, p.1.

Remembering Patrolman Emil Speth

Ninety-one years ago Davenport Police Patrolman Emil Speth walked the streets of Davenport, Iowa, wearing badge number 13. He was appointed to the department on July 13, 1911, according to an entry in the Davenport Police Roll Call Register January 1910 – March 1918. The married father was held in high regard by his co-workers and the public alike from all descriptions found in newspaper accounts of the time. Reading various pages of the Davenport Police Blotter January 1, 1915 – December 31, 1916, Speth’s name frequently appears as he made arrests while patrolling the streets of our city.

Looking through the police roll call register, one is able to trace Officer Speth as he moves up in police grades, takes vacations, and even time off when his wife is sick. It is not until a remark is placed next to Emil Speth’s name in the Davenport Police Roll Call Register January 1910 – March 1918 for the month of January 1917 that things have changed. The remark is short and simple, stating “Died 5:55 p.m. 1/26/17.”

Patrolman Speth was the first police officer killed in the line of duty in Davenport, Iowa.

Looking through our diverse collection, we were able to find something of what happened during Officer Speth’s final shift, which began on January 24, 1917 and was expected to carry over into the next day. The Davenport Police Blotter January 1, 1917 – October 31, 1918 provides an entry on page 5 (January 25, 1917)that notes a man named J. Allen Cox was arrested by Officer Kinney and Officer Speth for the crime of murder. Mr. Cox was described as 6 foot 2 inches in height with a dark complexion, no occupation, and of American nationality. Under remarks it is noted that he was in jail being held for grand jury.

The Ambulance Record – January 1, 1917 – January 20, 1920 records Emil Speth was shot below the heart by J. Allen Cox at the Hess Hotel 12:35 a.m. (the date is listed as January 24th, but would actually have been January 25th as it had just passed midnight). Officer Speth was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital (now Genesis East Hospital) from the Hess Hotel at 128-130 E. 2nd Street (currently the site of the Mid American Building & Plaza). J. Allen Cox’s name appears on the line below Officer Speth. He was taken from St. Luke’s to the county jail by ambulance on January 25, 1917 after being treated for gunshot wounds.

The Davenport Daily Times and The Davenport Democrat and Leader help flesh out the incident. Around January 24, 1917, the Davenport Police Department received a complaint from Mrs. Violet Black, who accused J. Allen Cox of taking money under false pretenses when he said he would be able to help her obtain a divorce from her husband. He demanded payment, according to Mrs. Black, but did not produce evidence that the divorce was finalized. Detective John Kinney went to the Hess Hotel late in the evening of January 24th, when it was discovered Mr. Cox was registered there. As Detective Kinney arrived at the hotel, Officer Speth happened to be patrolling nearby and accompanied him inside to assist Kinney. They found Mr. Cox and a gentleman named J. C. Wood inside Mr. Cox’s room and after talking to Mr. Cox, the officers asked him to go down to the station with them. Detective Kinney then stepped outside of the room to check the identity of Mr. Wood, leaving Officer Speth to secure Cox. Suddenly, a commotion was heard from the room. J. Allen Cox had a gun hidden in the pocket of the overcoat he was wearing and shot Officer Speth through his coat without ever pulling the weapon out. Both officers fired at Cox and he was wounded slightly.

Officer Speth died on January 26, 1917 leaving a widow and eight children ranging from sixteen years to three months. J. Allen Cox was convicted of Murder in the Second Degree on November 10, 1917 and was sentenced to twelve year at the Fort Madison, Iowa Penitentiary. He would be paroled on August 29, 1921 and received a Certificate of Order of Discharge on September 22, 1922.

On October 1, 1962 President John F. Kennedy signed Public Law 87-726 authorizing the President to proclaim May 15th of each year as Peace Officers Memorial Day and making the calendar week of May 15th National Police Week. In 1994 President Bill Clinton signed Public Law 103-322 directing that the United States flag be flown at half-staff on May 15th of each year. The month of May is also recognized as Police Memorial Month.

Davenport Police Officers Killed in the Line of Duty:
Police Officer Emil Arthur Speth – Died January 26, 1917
Police Officer Bernard Herman Geerts – Died July 16, 1928
Detective Sergeant William Hans Jurgens – Died July 16, 1958
Police Officer Michael Lee Farnsworth – Died December 5, 1971

(posted by Amy D.)