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March 21: Fargo Policewoman Alice Duffy

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By the turn the 20th century, recognizing the valuable social work women offered, civic groups and municipalities began considering them as police officers. Initially, they worked with delinquent women and to enhance community morality.

In December 1912, Irma Erwin was hired as Fargo’s first policewoman. Unfortunately, after three years of diligent work, Erwin resigned when she refused to work two jobs for the city – as a police officer and as social worker. Outraged by her departure, Fargo’s citizens, including women’s clubs, judges, pastors, and attorneys, petitioned for a replacement.

On this date in 1916, Alice Duffy became Fargo’s new policewoman. Born in 1859, she had become a high school teacher and then principal. In 1913, she moved to Chicago to study social work. This led to a job at the Chicago Settlement House, an organization that provided support services for poor people. She also worked with the Legal Aid Society and the Juvenile Protective Association. Her next move took her to Michigan, as the superintendent of the Children’s Home in Bay City. But it wasn’t long before Duffy was on the move again, taking the job in Fargo as a police officer.

Duffy quickly became a well-respected and active member of the community. Her workload reflected the demanding nature of her position. In December 1916 alone, she responded to 127 calls, held 411 consultations, conducted 561 personal interviews, and handled 83 juvenile cases.

One of her jobs was to supervise all public dances to ensure moral conduct! In 1921 she testified in court that W. H. Milam and his partner were dancing the “shimmy shake,” which was considered “objectionable conduct.” Milam claimed he was dancing the “Frisco” or “tickle toe,” but apparently that defense failed. He was found guilty of shimmy shaking.

Despite two attempts by the Fargo Commission and Police Department to remove her, public support, evidenced by thousands of signatures on petitions, kept Duffy in her role. She remained in her position until her passing in 1937 at the age of 75.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


  • Author Unknown, “Miss Alice Duffy Named as Fargo Police Woman,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, February 10, 1916, pg. 6.
  • Author Unknown, “Mrs. Poppler Claims she was Asked to Resign with Two Days’ Notice,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, November 30, 1915, pgs. 1, 10.
  • Author Unknown. “Board of Education Elects Teachers for Year,” The Gazette, April 19, 1913, pg. 18.
  • Author Unknown. “Dance Case to be Heard in District Court at Fargo,” Grand Forks Herald, March 16, 1921, pg. 3.
  • Author Unknown. “Dancing Clubs Put Under Supervision of the City Police,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, December 6, 1916, pg. 9.
  • Author Unknown. “Fargo Policewoman since 1916 Dies at 75, The Bismarck Tribune, March 15, 1937, pg. 1.
  • Author Unknown. “History,” Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, University of Chicago,, accessed February 28, 2024.
  • Author Unknown. “Ladies Call on Mayor,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, June 1, 1912, pg. 3.
  • Author Unknown. “Miss Duffy on the Job Today,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, March 21, 1961, pg. 5.
  • Author Unknown. “Office of Policewoman will not be Abolished – New Ordinance Planned, “The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, December 1, 1915, pgs. 1, 6.
  • Author Unknown. “Police Matron has Arrived,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, December 16, 1912, pg. 6.
  • Author Unknown. “Policewoman Makes Report for December,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, January 4, 1917, pg. 6.
  • Fargo Diamond Jubilee Committee. Official Program: the Fargo Diamond Jubilee, 1875-1950,, accessed February 28, 2024.
  • Maiorano, Hannah. “Breaking and Entering: How Women First Joined the Police Force,” Molly Brown House Museum,, retrieved February 28, 2024.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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