Women’s History Wednesdays: Constance Kopp

I don’t think anyone is going to argue with me here when I say history has overwhelmingly been a chronicle of men. Some good. Some bad. Always one sided. This is the reason why I always get excited when a woman fights her way onto the pages of history and onto my book shelf.

The most recent addition to my women’s history hall of fame is Constance Kopp, America’s first female sheriff, in the form of Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart.

I bought it as a fun fiction book, and truth be told, I’m a sucker for a good cover.

It’s when I start to read that I notice this…

At which point, I yell to no one, “she was real?!” It didn’t even matter who “she” was. She was a real person. The game just changed. There’s learning afoot!

So, after reading up on the real Constance, here’s the  short version of the events that lead to her not-quite-but-hopefully-soon fame…

July 1914, Kopp’s car was struck by Henry Kaufman, silk factory tycoon. In the following months, she wrote to him several times regarding payment for the damage done to her family’s only mode of transportation, and repeatedly, he ignored her. She, as one would absolutely not expect out of a woman in 1914, sued him.

This was a man known for his intimidation tactics if it meant he got what he wanted, and in the year 1914, Constance Kopp, a woman living in the country with her sisters Norma and Fleurette, pushed back!

A campaign of harassment began to try and get Kopp to back down. Kaufman’s men wrote letters started demanding payment from Kopp, and even threatening to kidnap and sell her sister into sex trafficking. Most of the police department was under his thumb as well, so did not offer assistance.

It was when Kaufman and his men started throwing bricks and shooting at her windows in the middle of the night that she returned to the police and received some help. It was the lone sheriff who decided to take the threats seriously, and in a then (and still now if we’re honest) unheard act, armed the three sisters with revolvers for protection.

Interestingly, the guns were never used.

He would also go on to enlist Kopp’s help in a series of stings to trap Kaufman’s men, gun quietly tucked in her purse as she waited on street corners to lure out her adversaries.

So impressed with her bravery, the sheriff would go on to appoint her to the position of deputy sheriff, the first female to ever hold the title.

Kopp was quoted once as saying, “A woman should have the right to do any sort of work she wants to, provided she can do it.” You ever read about a person and think, “that’s someone I want to know?”
To learn more (and there is more!), I recommend Girl Waits with Gun. Fiction it may be, but Stewart raided the archives to get it right.

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