Partner Mary Sophia Allen
10 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London SW3 5HS
St Stephen, Castle Cl, Lympne CT21 4LQ, UK
Margaret Mary Damer Dawson OBE (12 June 1873 – 18 May 1920) was the first woman Women’s Police Service founder in 1914. At the outbreak of war, the feminist National Union of Working Women (NUWW) proposed a force of non-uniformed volunteer patrols, while a number of women from a more militant suffragette background, including Margaret Damer Dawson and Nina Boyle, established the uniformed professional Women's Police Volunteers (WPV). When a disagreement over the role of the WPV occured soon afterwards, Margaret Damer Dawson and Mary Allen broke with Nina Boyle and established a further group, the Women Police Service (WPS). Mary Allen's enthusiasm was shared by Margaret Damer Dawson, and the two soon established a close professional and personal relationship, living together in London between 1914 and 1920. When Dawson died in 1920, Allen was a major beneficiary in her will, continuing to live in Dawson's house, Danehill, throughout the 1930s and beginning a relationship in the early 1920s with another former WPS officer, Helen Tagart.
She was a prominent anti-vivisectionist and philanthropist who co-founded the first British women's police service. Nina Boyle appointed Margaret Damer Dawson, who had also expressed an interest in women policing, as “Chief of the Women Police Volunteers.” However, Nina Boyle’s pioneer role in gaining acceptance for women policing in a male dominated profession is glossed over in Mary Allen’s retrospective, The Pioneer Policewomen, published in 1925. Allen, who became a commandant of the Women’s Auxiliary Service, dedicated her book on the history of women’s policing to Margaret Damer Dawson.
Margaret Dawson was born on 12 June 1873 to a wealthy family in Burgess Hill and grew up in Hove. After her father, Richard Dawson, died her mother remarried, becoming Lady Walsingham. Her step-father was Thomas de Grey, 6th Baron Walsingham. Dawson had a private income and studied music with the Austrian pianist Benno Schoenberger at the London Academy of Music. She became involved in anti-vivisection and other good causes and founded a home for foundlings. She was awarded silver medals by Finland and Denmark for her campaigning work for animal rights.
Dawson was honorary secretary of the International Anti-Vivisection Council set up in 1908 by Lizzy Lind af Hageby, and together they organised the International Anti-Vivisection and Animal Protection Congress in London in July 1909. As Honorary Organising Secretary of the Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society. The organisation campaigned against cruelty and the socially acceptable circus performing animals and the slaughter of animals for meat.
In 1914 she and Nina Boyle founded the Women Police Volunteers (WPV), but a year later the pair split due to disagreements over the organisation's role. Dawson founded and led a new organisation, the Women's Police Service (renamed the Women's Auxiliary Service after the First World War), though Boyle's WPV continued some patrols. Dawson and her second-in-command Mary Sophia Allen were both awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1918.
Dawson was also asked to advise the Baird Commission when it looked at the role women in policing. She and many of her followers had been excluded from being on the Baird Commission on the advice of the Police Commissioner who disliked lesbians and in particular Dawson. Dawson thought that the women's police force should be entirely separate from the male service. Her view did not prevail and she died prematurely of a heart attack in 1920. Her leadership role was taken over by Mary Allen had been Dawson's assistant for many years and they had lived together during the first World War having a close professional and personal relationship. Dawson died on 18 May 1920 and left her house and most of her money to Allen.
Dawson was buried in Lympne on 22 May 1920 after a funeral attended by other women police officers. A memorial was erected in the corner of Lymne churchyard. Her finances had dwindled as she had spent money on the voluntary police service. The home she shared with Mary Allen was left to her.
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