Sybil Plumlee

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Sybil Virginia Plumlee
Born Sybil Burgess
(1911-04-29)April 29, 1911
Seattle, Washington
Died January 6, 2012 (2012-01-07) (aged 100)
Lake Oswego, Oregon
Nationality American
Occupation Teacher, police officer
Known for Pioneering female officer, and before her death the oldest surviving former member, of the Portland Police Bureau
Spouse(s) Lloyd Barker
Virgil P. "Paul" Plumlee (1945–2010)
Children Louis Barker

Sybil Virginia Plumlee (née Burgess; April 29, 1911 – January 6, 2012) was an American teacher, caseworker and pioneering Portland, Oregon police officer who became the oldest living former member of the city's police force before her death.

Born in Seattle in 1911, Plumlee attended high school in Portland and graduated from Oregon Normal School, now known as Western Oregon University. She became a school teacher in Clarno, Oregon, but later returned to Portland, married and had a son. Following a divorce in 1943, she worked as an educator with the Ellis Mining Company in Bourne, Oregon. In 1945 she married Virgil "Paul" Plumlee, who died in 2010.

From 1947 to 1967 Plumlee served in the Portland Police Bureau unit then known as the Women's Protective Division. She is recognized as a pioneer in the law enforcement field, which was dominated by men. Plumlee wrote an unpublished memoir of her time on the police force called "Badge 357" and at age 96 published the book Stories of Hester Ann Bolin Harvey and Her Family, a collection of family stories and history. Plumlee died in 2012.

Early life, education and career[edit]

Sybil Burgess was born April 29, 1911 in Seattle, Washington, the daughter of Charles and Stella Burgess. The family moved to Portland, where she attended both Lincoln High School and Jefferson High School, graduating from Jefferson in 1930.[1] After graduating from Oregon Normal School (now Western Oregon University) she worked for a time as a teacher in a one-room school in Clarno, Oregon. She returned to Portland, married Lloyd Barker (also a teacher) and had a son named Louis Barker. The couple divorced in 1943. Sybil remained a single mother during World War II, working as a teacher with the Ellis Mining Company in Bourne, Oregon and buying a house in nearby Sumpter for $150. In 1945, she married Virgil P. "Paul" Plumlee.[1] She survived the 1948 flooding of Vanport City, Oregon.[2] Plumlee also worked at various times as a soda fountain clerk at a drugstore in northeast Portland and as a cab driver.[2][3]

Plumlee became a caseworker for the Clackamas County Welfare Department after a female police officer encouraged her to take a civil servant test. She passed the test and was selected to join the force's single open position from a pool of 300 applicants.[1][2] Plumlee served from 1947 to 1967 in the unit then known as the Women's Protective Division.[1][3] Policewomen in that division did not work with male officers and did not wear uniforms. Their work focused on crimes such as child abuse, domestic violence and rape that generally were investigated in privacy.[3] Records also show that Plumlee participated in undercover investigations, including one anti-homosexual campaign led by Mayor of Portland Dorothy McCullough Lee. In 1949 the Women's Protective Division sent Plumlee and Edna Trout to Music Hall, known in the 1940s for catering to gay men and lesbians, with the intent to "apprehend lesbians who might approach them and solicit attentions".[4]

According to Louis Barker, his mother became a police officer "for the money" rather than to "make the world safe"; the household needed her income and she was also contributing to the support of her mother.[3] Plumlee later said of the unit: "In some ways, the old Women's Protective Division was archaic, but on balance we did a lot of good."[5] Plumlee is recognized as a pioneer in the law enforcement field,[1][2][6] which was largely dominated by men.[3]

Plumlee purchased her first computer when she was in her eighties and continued driving until age 98.[3] Her husband died in 2010.[1] She celebrated her centennial birthday at her residence in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Guests included Multnomah County Sheriff Daniel Staton, Lt. Mary Lindstrand and Frank Springer, the oldest living male retiree of the Portland Police Bureau. Birthday wishes and certificates of appreciation were also offered by President Barack Obama and Mayor of Portland Sam Adams.[2] Plumlee died in 2012 and was survived by her son, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.[1] Before her death, Plumlee was the oldest surviving former member of the Portland Police Bureau.[1][3]

Writing and other interests[edit]

Plumlee wrote an unpublished memoir of her time on the police force called "Badge 357".[1][2] At age 96, she published the book Stories of Hester Ann Bolin Harvey and Her Family. The collection of stories, such as her grandmother's journey across the Oregon Trail in 1850, included photographs and more than a century of family history.[6] Plumlee also enjoyed camping, fishing and traveling.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Obituaries – Jan. 12, 2012: Sybil Plumlee". Lake Oswego Review (Lake Oswego, Oregon: Pamplin Media Group). January 12, 2012. pp. 1–2. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Newell, Cliff (May 12, 2011). "Portland policewoman turns 100 in Lake Oswego". Portland Tribune. pp. 1–2. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Hallman, Jr., Tom (January 12, 2012). "'She was one of a kind,' family says of Sybil Plumlee, one of Portland's first female police officers". The Oregonian (Advance Publications). ISSN 8750-1317. Retrieved February 8, 2012. 
  4. ^ Boag, Peter (2004). "Does Portland Need a Homophile Society?: Gay Culture and Activism in the Rose City Between World War II and Stonewall" (PDF). Oregon Historical Quarterly (Oregon Historical Society) 105 (1): 15–16. Retrieved February 9, 2012. 
  5. ^ Myers, Gloria E. (1995). A Municipal Mother: Portland's Lola Greene Baldwin, America's First Policewoman. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press. p. 179. ISBN 0-87071-386-8. Retrieved February 7, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Fost, Dan (August 6, 2007). "You're a Writer. Presto! A Book.". San Francisco Chronicle (Hearst Corporation). pp. 1–2. ISSN 1932-8672. Retrieved February 7, 2012. 

External links[edit]

The Rap Sheet, Portland Police Association
  • Roberts, Bob (April 2007). "Retiree's Corner" (PDF). The Rap Sheet (Portland, Oregon: Portland Police Association) 38 (4): 11. Retrieved February 8, 2012. 
  • Roberts, Bob (June 2009). "Retiree's Corner" (PDF). The Rap Sheet (Portland, Oregon: Portland Police Association) 40 (6): 11. Retrieved February 8, 2012. 
  • Roberts, Bob (February 9, 2012). "Retirees Message". The Rap Sheet. Portland, Oregon: Portland Police Association. Retrieved February 14, 2012.