O Captain, My Captain

Stories about Frances Glessner Lee, even contemporary ones, often refer to her as an honorary police captain. Was her designation as captain honorary? Yes and no.

Lee was indeed an honorary captain in the Maine State Police, the Vermont State Police, the Massachusetts State Police, the Virginia State Police, the Connecticut State Police, and the Chicago Police Department. She was also an honorary major in the Kentucky State Police.

But in New Hampshire, she was the real deal. In 1943, Col. Ralph Caswell commissioned Lee as a captain in the state police. Captain Lee served as the agency’s director of education. As you can read in this document, which hangs in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, Lee was authorized with “general police powers to enforce all criminal laws of the State, and to serve criminal processes and make arrests under proper warrants in all counties.”

How else do I know the designation was not honorary? Col. Caswell, who signed the certificate, said so. “This was not an honorary post,” Caswell said. “She was actually a full-fledged captain with all the authority and responsibility of the post.”

Lee was 66 years old when appointed Captain in the New Hampshire State Police. She carried a gold shield in her purse for the rest of her life, although she never made an arrest or worked a case.

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