Rosalie Sterritt joined New Zealand Police in 1948 as part of the fourth intake of women to be trained as police officers.
Originally from Kaikōura, Rosalie and five other women were sent to Auckland as temporary constables after they graduated, where they worked for a year before being appointed permanently.
Two years after joining Police, Rosalie suffered a serious back injury during a search for a missing mental patient on One Tree Hill in Auckland. She had grabbed a tree branch while attempting to climb higher, and it broke and caused her to fall. Rosalie had spinal surgery to repair her back in 1957. It took her a year to recover and when she later returned to work, she was assigned office work because she couldn’t perform full duties.
In 1959, there was a push to deem her medically unfit to work. Determined not to have her job taken from her, Rosalie pursued Supreme Court action and won her case, keeping her job. Rosalie became a senior constable in 1979.
She later went on to become an inquiry officer and then an inquest officer before retiring in 1985 at the age of 60 after serving nearly 37 years as a police officer. She was the first woman in Police to receive a 35-year-long service award.
In her retirement, she pursued her interests – which included scouting, music and woodworking. She had her own workshop for repairing and making items from wood and metal. When she was not busy at home in Christchurch, she enjoyed regular trips away with friends in her self-contained campervan. In her later years, she moved into a new retirement home, which she chose based on the fact she was able to take her beloved campervan with her.
In 2016, she was the oldest former female officer to attend celebrations marking 75 years of women in Police. That year, she told Police News that she had never been under any illusion about the difficulties of choosing a policing career. Right from the start, she said, “it was quite obvious that the men didn’t want us there”.
The first women police officers had to quietly battle for acceptance. “There were no equal opportunities. The belief was that policewomen were not really capable… some of the duties irritated us, for we had joined to be policewomen, not clerks.”
Even when they did get out the office, women police weren’t permitted to drive
– they had to take a tram or a bus.
“If I had got married, I would have had to exit Police.” That was the rule, and the destiny of most of the other women with whom she had entered Police.
During her police service, one of her extra duties was to give talks to various women’s groups. At one meeting, she was asked what educational degrees she had. Rosalie responded: “Basic common sense, and there are no degrees for that!”
She received recognition from several community and charity organisations throughout her life and was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for community service in 1976.
“My motto is ‘I do everything I can until I can’t’.” The word, “Boredom”, she said, would not be on her death certificate.