Alaska Packard Davidson (1868–1934) became the first female Special Agent in 1922, at the age of 54. She only served for two years before being asked to resign by newly-appointed Director J. Edgar Hoover. It wasn’t until 1972, shortly after Hoover’s death and the passing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, that women once again joined the forces of the FBI.
Born in Ohio in 1868, Alaska P. Davidson was 54 years old when she became a the FBI’s first female Special Agent. In the 1920s, she was one of three women, including Jessie Duckstein and Lenore Houston, who served as FBI agents.
Alaska had completed three years of public education, and was married with one child, Anna, at the time she became an agent. She trained in New York City, where the Special Agent in Charge said of her, “This lady is very refined and could not work on every investigation where a woman could be used.” He advised that she should only be assigned to open cases that weren’t too “rough”.
After her training, she was appointed a Special Agent by Bureau of Investigation Director William Burnes on October 11, 1922. She was immediately assigned to the Washington D.C. office. Her starting salary was $7 a day plus $4 when travelling, which was paid from the appropriation for “Detection and Prosecution of Crimes.”
At the time, the FBI was mainly hired women agents to assist with investigations related to the Mann Act. Passed in 1910, the Mann Act made interstate sex trafficking a federal crime. However, the ambiguous language of “immorality” was used to criminalize many forms of sexual acts, consensual or not. It was most commonly used to prosecute men for having sex with underage females. Alaska was of limited use to the Bureau in these investigations.
On May 10, 1924, J. Edgar Hoover was appointed acting director of the Bureau of Investigation. After the Teapot Dome scandals (considered the “greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics” before Watergate), he had promised to cut the rolls to clean house and remove all unqualified agents. Immediately upon his appointment, he demanded each office evaluate their personnel.
The special agent in charge of the Washington field office reported to J. Edgar Hoover that he had “no particular work for a woman agent”. At Hoover’s request, Alaska resigned on June 10, 1924, after less than two years as a Special Agent.
Alaska P. Davidson died ten years later on July 16, 1934 at the age of 66. It wasn’t until forty years later, in 1972, that the FBI Academy began admitting women. The first two were Susan Lynn Roley, a Marine Corps lieutenant, and Joanne Pierce, a former nun. Today, 19 percent of FBI Special Agents are women.
KeriLynn Engel is an autodidact and women’s history buff who founded Amazing Women in History in 2011.