Erica Ström was one of Sweden’s first women police officers.
Fredrika (Erica) Ström was born in 1873 in Borås. She was the daughter of the organist Johan Fredrik Ström and Aina, née Rudgren. Erica Ström had two older siblings, Axel and Kristina, born in 1865 and 1871 respectively.
Erica Ström, Agda Halldin and Maria Andersson were appointed as Sweden’s three first auxilliary policewomen in the Stockholm police force in March 1908. “Police sisters” as they were officially designated constituted the first version of women police assistants, but women had no access to regular police training. Their work was aimed at matters concerning women and children.
The Swedish auxilliary policewomen were introduced on trial after a decision made by the state authorities in Stockholm on 17 March 1908. The decision was preceded by a motion from the women’s association Svenska Kvinnors Nationalförbund to the Stockholm city council in 1907. The background was that Germany had already successfully introduced women into the police force in 1903, and that there were women in the police forces in several other countries.
When Erica Ström acceded to her appointment in the Stockholm police force she was a trained and experienced nurse. She had completed the nursing course at Sabbatsberg Hospital in 1896. After her training, she joined the Red Cross. She worked at several hospitals and in private healthcare. In the obituary published in Svensk Polis-tidning in 1918, and the almost identical text in Dagens Nyheter on 30 November 1918, Erica Ström was described as a very skilful nurse with good knowledge of human behaviour. According to the authors of the obituary, it was the same characteristics that made her so suitable for breaking new ground as a policewoman. She was described as a much-liked colleague.
The appointment as auxilliary policewomen was pioneering. At that time, the police force was decentralised and organised in different ways in different towns. The Stockholm police force divided the city into districts with police patrols that were responsible for law and order in their respective coverage zones. Erica Ström served firstly at Jakob’s police station with several districts in its zone. As part of her duties, she also made journeys to several other countries, among them the USA, to gather experiences from women in the police force. This experience was put to good use in the organisation of the women’s section of the police force where she herself was employed. At the time of her death, she was employed in the criminal section.
Uniformed police from several of the districts in which she had served attended her funeral. This can be interpreted as a sign that she was a respected colleague in the police force and that her contributions had made an impression.
Erica Ström died of Spanish flu at only 45 years of age, in Stockholm on 28 November 1918. Her funeral was held in Kungsholmen Church and she is buried in the Sandsborg Cemetery in Stockholm.