One of our astute readers asked me this question recently noting that our site didn't contain anything about female FBI agents during the depression era. It was being passed down by family members that one of her relatives, a female, was an FBI agent during this period. Her question was a good one not only for historical reasons, but to settle the family story too.
Simply put, there were none. In fact, since the 1920s, there were no female FBI agents in the Bureau until the summer after Director Hoover's death in 1972. Rather than recount the history, here's some script from a recent speech given by one of the Bureau's female Assistant Directors that explains it best:
Let's take the history of the FBI, for example. The Bureau was created in 1908 as the Special Agent force. In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover became the Director of the Bureau of Investigation and what eventually became known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935. But, did you know prior to Director Hoover's appointment there were two women pioneers in 1923 who were Special Agents? Jessie Duckstein and Alaska Davidson were dreamers and the first female trailblazers in the Bureau. They resigned in 1924. But, their dreams to see females among the ranks of agents in the FBI were not deferred. Shortly after they resigned, Lenore Houston became a Special Agent in the Philadelphia Field Office and served for four years.
And, although it was not until July 17, 1972, nearly 44 years later, when women began to truly enter the ranks of the FBI Special Agent, the obstacles of the previous years served as the catalysts which forced the dreams of women in federal law enforcement to explode. And today, women in the FBI are supervisors, program managers, Unit Chiefs, Section Chiefs, Special Agents in Charge, Assistant Directors, and Executive Assistant Directors. Women in the FBI are vocal, powerful, and invaluable contributors.
For the assistance of our readers, I've linked a 1971 letter from FBI Headquarters to the then president of Colorado State University regarding his allegation that not hiring female special agents was a discriminatory practice in violation of the law. The letter explains the law, the Civil Service regulations and the Bureau's reasoning behind the practice. All of it would change about a year and a half later...