In 1914 the Headmistresses' Association suggested the formation of a female police force to control the behaviour of young women. As a result, over 2,000 Women's Patrols were formed and every night would tour public parks and visit cinemas in an attempt to prevent acts of immorality.
Margaret Damer Dawson, Secretary of the International Congress of Animal Protection Societies, was another who was concerned about the behaviour of young women. With the support of Sir Edward Henry, the Chief Commissioner of Police, she formed the Women Police Volunteers (WPV) with Nina Boyle. The government had always opposed the idea of policewomen but with the outbreak of the First World War and large numbers of policemen joining the British Army, it was considered a good idea to have women volunteers to help run the service. Another reason that Dawson's proposal was accepted was that her members were willing to work without pay.
In 1915 Margaret Damer Dawsonbecame Commandant and Mary Allen became Sub-Commandant. Allen, a member of the Women Political and Social Union who had been imprisoned three times during the campaign for the vote. She later remarked in her book, The Pioneer Policewoman, that: "A sense of humour had kept me from any bitterness. I was quite as enthusiastically ready to work with and for the police as I had been prepared, if necessary, to enter into combat with them."
In 1915 Dawson renamed her organisation, the Women's Police Service (WPS). At first the organization concentrated its work in the London area. Wearing a dark-blue uniform, the WPS were assigned responsibilities such as looking after the welfare of refugees.
Grantham in Lincolnshire became the first provincial town to form a branch of the Women's Police Service. Impressed by the achievements of the WPS in Grantham, two of the women were made full members of the police force. In a meeting held in November, 1915, the Bishop of Grantham praised the work of the WPS and called for a national Women's Police Force.
In 1916 the Admiralty recruited a member of the WPS as an undercover worker in an attempt to expose spying and drug taking at the Scapa Flow Naval Base. The Ministry of Munitions also used the WPS to search women workers at its factories. At Gretna, near Carlisle, over 9,000 women were employed to produce munitions and 150 members of the WPS had the responsibility of searching them when they entered and left the factory.
By 1918 WPS women were on duty in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow, Bristol, Belfast, Oxford, Cambridge, Grantham, Portsmouth, Folkestone, Hull, Plymouth, Brighton, Reading, Nottingham, London and Southampton. However, in many cases they were not sworn in as full members of the local police force and could not make arrests.
When the Armistice was signed, there were over 357 members of the Women's Police Service. Commandant Margaret Damar Dawson and Subcommandant Mary Allen, asked the Chief Commissioner, Sir Nevil Macready, to make them a permanent part of his force. He refused, saying that the women were "too educated" and would "irritate" male members of the force. Macready instead decided to recruit and train his own women.
The WPS continued as a voluntary service but in February, 1920, five members, including Mary Allen, were charged with wearing uniforms too similar to that of the one worn by the Metropolitan Women Police Patrols. After a four-day hearing Macready won his case and the WPS were forced to change its uniform and its name. After 1920 the Women's Police Service became the Women's Auxiliary Service.