CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Federal Bureau of Investigation is celebrating a major milestone this summer-- the 40th anniversary of its first female special agent.
There were two female members of the bureau in the 1924 when J. Edgar Hoover took over the Bureau but within a few months both had resigned.
Hoover did not believe that women could handle the “physical rigors of the special agent position” and from 1924 until Hoover’s death May 2, 1972, women were prohibited from becoming special agents. Some ladies who sent applications even received letters from the director suggesting a different career.
Cleveland Special Agent Donna Cambeiro said, “My training agent on the bank fraud squad was one of the first agents that came into the bureau. She had the greatest stories. He (Hoover) sent a letter to women who applied saying we’re not accepting females as agents, but you may make a good secretary.”
The policy continued for decades but about a week after Hoover’s death that all changed.
In a press release, FBI Acting Director L. Patrick Gray announced that “women applicants will now be considered for the FBI special agent position.”
The first two women to be accepted and complete the training were a nun and former marine.
On July 17, 1972, Joanne Pierce and Susan Roley were sworn in as special agents and by the end of the year a total of 11 women had joined the bureau.
“Now we have the first SWAT team member, the first sniper, the first Special
Agent in Charge, the first Executive Director and that’s all happened from 1972 to present,” said Special Agent Vicki Anderson, “Females have gone on to do everything just like the guys.”
Unfortunately they also have faced the same risks.
Since 1972, two women have died in the line of duty.
“It’s a risk in any law enforcement position. We take that risk when involved in arrests and searches,” said Special Agent Anderson.
Women now make up 19 percent of the bureau’s special agents with approximately 2,700 female agents. They must undergo the same weapons, self-defense and other tactical training as their male counterparts and engage in the same types of arrests and raids. They continue to work long hours and break down barriers and stereotypes while also juggling family life.
Special Agent Christine Oliver recalls being on a raid and getting a call from her child’s school, “You’d be out on a search warrant or arrest and you get a call saying you’re child threw up on a field trip and here you are with your raid jacket on, but the important thing is your child.”
But female special agents say it’s what they live for and that the job is worth the sacrifice to proudly serve their country, community and the bureau.
Special Agent Donna Cambeiro says, “I think at the end of the day we’re all here for the same purpose we’re all here to help people.”
And the current female special agents remain extremely grateful to the original trailblazers who made their current positions possible.
“I think they’re absolutely amazing,” said Special Agent Lindsay Eichenmiller, “I admire what they did and know that I’m here because of them.”