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Mary Sophia Allen: Suffragette to fascist


Mary Sophia Allen, one of the first British policewomen, was an extraordinary and outrageous woman. Born in 1878, she grew up in Bristol where she rebelled against the strictures of middle class life and, at the age of thirty, left home to become a suffragette.

Mary was jailed three times for smashing windows, went on hunger-strike, and was forcibly fed in Holloway Gaol. The outbreak of the First World War, and the suspension for the duration of the war of suffragist hostilities, left her casting around for a suitable occupation for an independent-minded woman with a penchant for leadership. She was particularly keen to wear a uniform, and was attracted to the new Women Police Service. She soon became its leader, and contributed a great deal to women’s policing in Germany, Ireland, and at home, and supplied hundreds of trained women to police munitions factories. Her work was rewarded with an OBE.

However, the authorities found that Mary wanted more power and influence than they were prepared to give. For many years she fought for her position against the Metropolitan Police, a fight she lost, although she continued to travel the world in her uniform, and was generally accepted abroad as the chief British policewoman, much to the dismay of the police and government authorities at home.

Mary had a lifelong obsession with uniforms and masculine authority. She was strongly drawn to dictatorial men, and was proud to have met Hitler and Mussolini. She became a devoted follower of Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists.

Mary narrowly escaped internment during the second World War, for her anti-Semitic activities and for the possibility that she was spying for Germany, although this was never proved. Her movements were severely restricted, and her activities were observed.

Women adored Mary, and a number of them were eager to fund her increasingly grandiose schemes, including the formation of a Women’s Reserve, which was intended to fight Communism and other perceived threats to the British way of life. Mary Sophia Allen, suffragette, policewoman and fascist, died in a Croydon nursing home at the age of 86. 

By Nina Boyd

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