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In honor of Women’s History Month, South University presents five influential women in the history of criminal justice. 

Sandra Day O’Connor (1930-) was the first woman United States Supreme Court Justice, serving from 1981 to 2006. In 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. After becoming an attorney, O’Connor couldn’t find a law firm that would hire a woman, but found employment as a secretary for a firm. She later went on to serve in the Arizona state legislature and the Arizona Court of Appeals in Phoenix before being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court (Kuiper, 2010).

Freda Adler (1934) is an influential criminologist renowned throughout the world. Adler served as the President of the American Criminological Society from 1994-1995 and has also served as a consultant for the United Nations on issues of crime. Adler has contributed a substantial body of literature in the field of criminology and etiology of crime and has published hundreds of papers on international crime, female criminality and substance abuse (Flynn, 1998).

Alice Stebbins Wells (1873-1957) was the first female police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. A former minister from Kansas, Wells joined the LAPD after appealing to the mayor, city council and the police department. Wells founded and became the first president of the International Association of Police Women. She traveled throughout North America promoting the recruitment of female police officers, serving as an advocate for the welfare of children and speaking frequently about the prevention of juvenile crime (International Association of Women Police, 2009).

Janet Reno (1938-) was the first female U.S. Attorney General and the longest serving in the 20th century, serving from 1993 to 2001. Reno received her law degree from Harvard, one of only 16 women in a class of 500. Prior to serving in the Justice Department, Reno served as the State Attorney in Miami, FL (The United States Department of Justice, 2013).

Bevery J. Harvard (1951-) was the first African American women to be chief of police of a major city- Atlanta, GA. Serving as chief of police from 1994-2002, Harvard began her career as a police officer in 1977 and was also the first woman to graduate from the FBI’s National Academy (Steverson, 2008).

These are just some of the many women who have left a lasting impact on the history of criminal justice. At South University, we look forward to finding out how our students and alumni from our Criminal Justice programs will also help to shape the future of the field.


  • • Flynn, E. E. (1998). Freda Adler: A Portrait of a Pioneer. Women & Criminal Justice, 10, 1-26.
  • • International Association of Women Police. (2009). IAWP History. Retrieved March 3, 2013, from Alice Stebbins Wells:
  • • Kuiper, K. (2010). The 100 Most Influential Women Of All Time. New York: Britannica Educational Publishing.
  • • Steverson, L. A. (2008). Policing in America: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Incorporated.
  • • The United States Department of Justice. (2013). Janet Reno. Retrieved 03 02, 2012, from Office of the Attorney General: