Following World War I, the Italian police were militarized after a reform debate that had originally contemplated an emphasis on improving community relations and social assistance, including the inclusion of women, but which ultimately went in quite a different direction. After World War II, the reform was revisited with an emphasis on democratization and this time, influenced by American desires, anti-Fascist ideals, and women’s political and labour participation, Women’s Police was created (PF: Polizia Femminile). After a first experiment with women officers serving in Trieste under the Allied government’s auspices, the PF operated as a nationwide women’s police corps from 1959–1983. Although separated organizationally by sex, women officers successfully fought for equal uniforms, pay scale, and ranks to their male counterparts, eventually achieving integration and the right to unionize in the 1980s. On the one hand, this represented a victory for women’s rights achieved by the dedicated activism of the first women members of parliament and a grassroots campaign for women’s equal employment. On the other hand, the PF was created in the wake of the closing of state brothels and deregulation of prostitution in 1958, and the PF was clearly intended to replace the Morals Police (Polizia di costume), as the officers who surveilled prostitutes and assured public decency. They were also charged with juvenile delinquency and policing homosexuality. How did this form of women’s work enforce, challenge, or subvert who could claim social control in post-war society? The paper presents the various strands braided together to tell the story of “policing women:” women who earned new rights and opportunities for themselves at the cost of disciplining the sexuality of their fellow citizens, especially other women, in ways that suggest women’s professionalization was part of a complicated and highly gendered social bargain.


Molly Tambor is Associate Professor of History at Long Island University Post in New York and Visiting Professor in Global Governance at University of Rome Tor Vergata. She is the author of The Lost Wave: Women and Democracy in Italy (Oxford 2014) and translator of Gian Giacomo Migone, The United States and Fascism in Italy. The Rise of American Finance in Europe (Gli Stati Uniti e il fascismo. Alle origini dell’egemonia americana in Italia, Cambridge 2015). She holds a PhD in Modern European History from Columbia University and specializes in political history and the history of women and gender. Her current research is on the entry of women into police forces in modern democratic states.