“How would it seem to be pinched by a woman constable?” The Lima News asked its readers in June 1923. “Some residents of Ottawa Township (Lima) may enjoy this novel experience after January 1, 1924, if Miss Gertrude Miller, candidate for constable is nominated and elected this fall.”
She was, and a man named Hob Millsap, whom the News described as a “husky westerner,” had the dubious enjoyment of being her first arrest. On Jan. 2, 1924, her first working day, the News wrote that Miller “was instructed to arrest him on a statutory charge made by a girl of 15 with whom he had been keeping company.
“Miss Miller weighs 95 pounds and is short in stature. Millsap tips the beam at 175 and is a six-footer. Learning that he was working for the Ohio Power Co., the girl officer went to his place of employment. Walking up to Millsap, she read him the warrant. Too astounded to speak, the prisoner allowed himself to be handcuffed and led away,” the newspaper wrote.
Millsap was the first of 579 men and 25 women Miller arrested before leaving office on Jan. 1, 1932, the News wrote in 1954.
Known in the newspapers as the “girl constable,” Miller, who was around 5-foot tall, was re-elected three times, serving for eight years as a constable for the courts of Ottawa Township justices of the peace Ernest Botkin and Robert Bennett.
Miller was born July 4, 1902, in Mercer County to Henry James and Verna Cynthia Miller. In the June of 1923, while she was working as a clerk in Botkin’s office, the not-yet 21-year-old decided to run for the office of constable.
“For two years past Miss Miller has been a stenographer in the office of Justice of the Peace Ernest Botkin,” the News reported June 10, 1923. “She determined to run for constable after reading of the exploits of women sheriffs in the far west. She is an expert horsewoman, is fond of dancing, swimming, and fishing. Miss Miller, although tipping the beam at only 101 pounds, expresses confidence in her ability to arrest the most desperate law violators.”
Miller also was confident she would win the election.
“Miss Miller was putting in her last effort Monday,” the News wrote Nov. 5, 1923. “It was a gloomy day, good only for duck hunting, but nevertheless the girl candidate managed to pass a few cards out at every big industrial plant in the city.”
“Will you win?” she was asked. “You bet I will win,” she declared, “but I’ve got to get my vote out.”
Writing in October 1927, as Miller sought her third term, the Lima Star and Republican-Gazette noted, “Lima has always had the distinction in one way or another of being a ‘trail blazer,’ even before the days of the oil boom in this vicinity, and one way that Lima leads other cities in the United States is that it has a woman constable – Miss Gertrude Miller.”
The newspaper added that “It is not new to have women in office. There are women sheriffs – very few, however – women clerks of court, policewomen, and women officers of juvenile court, but it remained for Lima to have a woman constable, elected by the voters.”
Although the newspapers frequently played up the novelty of Miller holding the position of constable, two other Allen County women were elected to the position in the same election. On Nov. 17, 1923, the Republican-Gazette, referring to the female constables as “products of a constitutional amendment” — the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote — noted that the women “have their own ideas about law enforcement.”
Miller, the newspaper wrote, “promised to reinforce her 90 pounds with a serviceable gun,” while Mary Roush, elected in Bath Township, “has her eyes on a neighboring farmer, who she says runs a still, and announces that one of her first acts will be a raid on his place, if he is still making moonshine when she takes office, Jan. 1.”
The third woman, Ninna Huffer, of Elida, was elected American Township constable, even though she had not run for the office.
“As no one was seeking the office, nearly every voter filled in the name of a friend and Miss Huffer with four to her credit won,” the Republican-Gazette wrote. It’s unclear if Huffer ever took office.
Miller certainly did, and stories on the “girl constable” became a staple of the newspapers.
“Psychic waves were short-circuited Thursday when J.E. McLeland, manager of the McLeland institute, 130 W. High St., a school of the occult, failed to overpower by mental suggestion constable Gertrude Miller, who was called to serve an attachment in a civil suit. He suggested the affair was all a mistake and that the girl constable leave. She stuck, backed by two burly bailiffs,” the News reported June 19, 1924.
Two months later, in mid-August 1924, Miller led a raid by Prohibition agents.
“State prohibition officers, who have given Lima a wide berth in recent weeks, celebrated their return here Friday by assisting in a raid made in an exclusive west end residence section by a posse led by Gertrude Miller, the girl constable of Ottawa Township,” the News reported in a front-page story on Aug. 16, 1924.
The raid on a Brice Avenue home led to the seizure of a “large copper still” and 13 gallons of “finished product,” which was eventually poured down a manhole at North and Main streets, according to the newspaper.
Although the Prohibition raids and arrests of violent criminals garnered the headlines, the Republican-Gazette in October 1927 noted, “Her highest percentage of arrests has been of men charged with nonsupport, the records disclose.”
Nevertheless, Miller proved irresistible to the media. She was included in Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” and was filmed in December 1924 for a Universal Weekly News reel. Under the headline, “Our Midget Girl Cop Breaks into the News Reels,” the News wrote that Miller “demonstrated her ability before the camera, by disarming Good (Lima police officer Earl Good, playing the perpetrator) and placing the handcuffs on him.”
A month earlier, the News noted, she had appeared in a “talkie newsreel” by Pathe.
“Seeing and hearing herself as others see and hear her was the pleasant surprise given Gertrude Miller, constable of Ottawa Township, Wednesday when she attended the State Theater. Miss Miller posed for the Pathe newsreel several weeks ago,” the News wrote Dec. 26, 1929.
In April 1931, Miller announced her candidacy for clerk of Lima Municipal Court, which was to be instituted on Jan. 1, 1932, replacing the Ottawa Township justices of the peace. Ottawa Township by then had been swallowed by Lima. Miller finished fourth in the election.
In 1935, she married Thomas J. Mitts, of Oklahoma, and eventually moved to California, where she worked as a bookkeeper for a grain growers association. She died in Brawley, California, in 1954.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.