Kathy Murphy and the Glass Ceiling
The first female sergeant of the Cambridge Police Department is our very own director of safety, security and transportation, Kathy Murphy.
From being raised to raising children in Cambridge, Ms. Murphy is an expert on this city. Sixty-one years ago, she was born as the youngest of four and raised by her single mother due to divorce, a taboo in the 60s. Growing up, she attended Cambridge Latin High School (before it merged with Rindge Tech) and worked delivering newspapers. In the ’70s, they weren’t giving girls routes, so she shared one with a male neighbor starting in seventh grade.
By the time she was a senior in high school, she was managing the routes.
After taking a year off between high school and college, Ms. Murphy wanted to study criminal justice at MassBay Community College. The school interviewed a group of applicants together in one room and asked, “What major do you want?” When all of the men in the room raised their hands for criminal justice, Ms. Murphy admitted, “I was intimidated!”
So, she raised her hand for early childhood education and stuck it out for the two-year program. She continued on this path after graduating until a Cambridge police officer encouraged her to apply for, and secure, a cadet position, where she assisted detectives and worked in different offices around the police department. By age 25, she was hired to join the force as the only woman in an academy of 21.
At this point in our conversation, Ms. Murphy’s phone rang. She ignored it.
Ms. Murphy—or should I say, Officer Murphy—began in patrol but was quickly transferred to the youth division investigating juvenile crime. “They needed a woman,” she said. The job paired well with her background in early childhood education and psychology. Ms. Murphy also worked in the sexual assault unit, splitting her time between two departments.
Soon after, she had her son and then her daughter. By the time Ms. Murphy went back to patrol, she was on the list to become a sergeant. She had taken the promotional exams and studied to receive her bachelor’s and master’s in criminal justice, degrees that awarded her a 25 percent increase in pay which aided in childcare as a working mother.
In 1996, Ms. Murphy became the first female sergeant the Cambridge Police Department had ever seen.
“They called it ‘breaking the glass ceiling,’” she said, smiling.
Ms. Murphy remembered a friend’s aunt, Ms. Darling, who was a “female juvenile detective”—the closest a woman could get to becoming a police officer in the early twentieth century. Ms. Darling would be in her ’90s now but died without ever wearing a police uniform. Ms. Darling wasn’t allowed to take the policeman’s test, an exam inherently for men.
“They wouldn’t allow the women to take tests at all,” Ms. Murphy said, shaking her head.
She got another phone call. Again, ignored.
But the third time her phone rang, she answered.
“What? A shooting?” Ms. Murphy’s jaw dropped—Equipment Manager Greg Pugh called to alert her of a bank robbery in Davis Square. Shots had been fired, and helicopters were hovering frantically above the building.
“I get these calls whenever something like this happens,” she said. “I miss my radio.”
Once a cop, always a cop.
As a woman breaking the glass ceiling, the environment in which Ms. Murphy worked did not always support her authority.
“If I arrested a female, they would call me every name in the book, and it would always be about my sexual preference,” she said. “I just used to laugh and say, ‘Well, hey, I’m not the one in the handcuffs.’”
“I can be your friend or be your enemy,” Ms. Murphy added, “so you better be nice to me.”
Men would make the same derogatory comments, she said, and even some of her coworkers didn’t feel that police work was a job for women. The joke was, “They hired another woman—get another typewriter.”
“I was thick-skinned. I held up to my standards. I never backed down,” Ms. Murphy said, adding that she had a great career.
None of her coworkers thought she would take the job at BB&N in 2013, but luckily, she did. Here, Ms. Murphy works to make the school a safer place by installing cameras and door locks and implementing various other security measures. She hopes to start training the students in safety protocols next year.
Ms. Murphy definitely broke that glass ceiling. Shattered it, actually.