Claire Helena Ferguson – Deputy Sheriff

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.

Back in January I started a series of articles about 10 amazing women who paved the way for females in various branches of law enforcement. If you missed the prior posts you can find them here:

 

This month I want to talk about Claire H. Ferguson, another trailblazing female law enforcement officer.

Claire was the member of a well-known Utah family. In fact, the female members of the family were quite progressive for their times. Claire’s mother, Ellen, co-founded the Utah Conservatory of Music and after her husband’s death dedicated herself to practicing medicine. Ellen was also active in politics and organized the Women’s Democratic Club in 1896.  Claire’s sister Ethel was an actress. It is interesting that little is remembered of her father William, other than that he was a Scotsman and that he moved his family to Utah in 1876.

Claire herself was quite accomplished in her own right. One contemporary newspaper article, which called her the girl sheriff of Utah, described her as “young and beautiful, highly educated and prominent in society.”

Born in Provo, Utah in 1877, Claire grew up in Salt Lake City. It was there she received her commission in 1897. Prior to that she’d served as a stenographer in the sheriff’s office under Sheriff T.P. Lewis. It was Sheriff Lewis who recognized her aptitude and ambition, and made the appointment. It is reported that she viewed her new role in this manner “The prospect did not frighten me. You must remember that I was born in the grand, free West, where we breathe freedom of thought and action with the air.” She also said “Women make good sheriffs. Every sheriff’s office should have women in it.”

Her duties included taking charge of female prisoners, vandals and child truants. But she did so much more. She was trained to handle a weapon the same as any other deputy and was warned that she might at some  point be required to carry out an execution, though there is no record that she had to do so.  According to her own accounts, she served more than 200 summons, transported more than 100 women to the insane asylum, escorted 12 or more children to reform school and escorted a half dozen women back and forth  between jail and court and remained with them throughout their trial proceedings.

The Kendalville Standard Newspaper of Indiana, calling her the girl sheriff of Utah, reported some of her other accomplishments in their September 29, 1899 edition: “…she has had as many thrilling experiences as the border heroine of a dime novel. She prevented the escape of “Handsome Gray,” the most desperate criminal in Utah. She nearly lost her life at the hands of a lunatic. She is the only woman ever invited to visit “Robber’s Roost,” the rendezvous of a lawless gang of cattle thieves. She saved a woman thief from suicide.”

I read in one report that she had as many as 15 marriage proposals during her time as a Deputy Sheriff. She refused them all, believing they were more in love with her unusual role than with her.

Claire did eventually marry, though not many details are known about the groom beyond the fact that his name was William Wright and he was a salesman. By the time of their marriage she was no longer a Deputy Sheriff in Utah. Instead she was living in New York where she’d moved to be with her sister and mother and she’d taken a job once again as a stenographer.

I could find no record of what eventually happened to Claire, though there was a mention that she survived her mother who passed away in 1920.

There you have it, another very brief sketch of the trailblazing life of a brave and ahead-of-her-times woman. What struck you most about her? If you’d already heard of her, did you learn anything new, or do you have more to add to her story?

 

 

Winnie Griggs
Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.
Updated: July 7, 2019 — 11:33 pm

29 Comments

  1. Very interesting for sure! Never heard of Claire’s before so thanks for sharing Winnie!

    jennydtipton at gmail dot com

  2. Good morning Winnie- Claire was a busy busy woman. Just thee daily dead’s she did is amazing at that time. When did she find time to sleep? Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Tonya. Yes, she really was a go-getter!!

  3. Claire definitely was a trailblazer.

  4. Great post and I have never heard of her before. Very unusual women for the time.

    1. Yes, and apparently she had a great role model in her mother

  5. She sounds fascinating. I love these posts.

    1. Thanks Debra, I’ve been having fun researching them.

  6. Wow this is interesting. Thank you for sharing about this woman. She sounds strong and gutsy no nonsense when necessary. I am really enjoying reading about these women who were not afraid to be strong and independent and do what they felt was right.

    1. Hi Lori, so glad you’re enjoying the series. I love the idea of showcasing these women whose accomplishments have been overlooked in history.

  7. What a gal! Thank you for sharing your interesting post. I have not heard of Claire.

    1. Hi Melanie – you’re quite welcome!

  8. Love to read about women in law in the old west.

    1. Hi Estella. Isn’t it fun to discover how some women took on ‘the establishment’ even back then?

  9. Winnie, thank you for this fascinating post!

    1. You’re welcome Caryl – thanks for stopping by!

  10. Thanks for introducing another great woman I knew nothing about, Winnie! The “girl sheriff from Utah.” Ha! She seems very capable and independent.

    1. Doesn’t she though! It probably helped that she had such an outspoken mother as a role model.

  11. About 90% of my relatives live in Utah (I was even born there!) and yet I haven’t heard of her! That’s amazing to me because I live for history! Thanks so much for sharing her history. I loved hearing about her! Although I only lived in Utah for the first two years of my life AND I went to college there (in Provo actually!), I’ve been back there hundreds of time since all my relatives live there! Now I will know more about the history!

    1. Hi Valri. Glad I could add to your store of historical info on Utah. Maybe you could find more about her in local archives

  12. I was a bit surprised she settled down and finished her days in New York, especially if it was New York City. For someone who lived the life she did it seems an odd shift. Her family had much to do with it I am sure. She may also have just been tired of her old life.

    1. Hi Patricia. I agree, it does seem a bit anti-climatic doesn’t it?

  13. Avatar

    I’m very surprised that there was a female policewoman in that time period! How exciting it had to be when she got the job! Another great blog, thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Stephanie. As I do this research I’m learning that there were many more women bucking the roles allotted them than I’d ever imagined.

  14. Love this:

    “The prospect did not frighten me. You must remember that I was born in the grand, free West, where we breathe freedom of thought and action with the air.” She also said “Women make good sheriffs. Every sheriff’s office should have women in it.”

  15. I’d never heard of her, but she’s got a great story. I loved seeing the excerpt from the Kendallville, Indiana, newspaper. My dad worked in that town for years!!!

  16. I had never heard of her, but this is so very interesting, she was a very brave woman and it sounds like she worked hard and did her job very well. Women can do just about anything a man can do in the working world. Good for her. Thank you for sharing all this very interesting information, I learned something today, Thanks to you all. God Bless you.

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