SUBMITTED PHOTO Belvidere Republican
The historic group of ten women assigned to the Chicago police force in 1913.

Mary Shannon Boyd-Chicago Policewoman/Detective

By Mindy Long

Ida Public Library Local History Specialist

March is Women’s History Month, a time when we can look back on the powerful women from our community that shaped history. Belvidere has been home to some extraordinary women but has also raised extraordinary women who left our borders to influence other cities. Once of those second generation Belvidere women was Mary Shannon Boyd.

Mary Anna Shannon was born in Belvidere on April 5, 1866 to Irish immigrants Mary and Edward Shannon. Unfortunately, she did not have the best upbringing. Mary was the fourth child of eleven and the second daughter. She had six brothers and four sisters but, although her father was a hardworking man, he was prone to drink and cruel behavior towards his wife. However, the charitable citizens of Belvidere banded together to help the family and find the Shannon children other homes to grow up in or jobs that included room and board. Mary went to live with the Frank Plane family, who were staunch Presbyterians and owned a local hardware store. She happily spent 14 years helping in the hardware store but remained close to her mother and siblings.

Once Mary came of age, she moved to Chicago to live with her older brother, William, a Chicago firefighter stationed in Northwood Park. She worked as an envelope maker until she met the love of her live, Harry Boyd. The two were married on Oct. 24, 1889 when Mary was 23 and Harry 25 and quickly added two sons to their happy family. However, Mary’s peaceful life would soon be shattered by a tragic event.

After 37 years of marriage and with her children’s urging, Mary’s mother left her father, filed for divorce, and moved in with her children in Chicago. She returned to Belvidere for a short visit in Sept. 1896 for an exhausting and upsetting divorce trial during which Mary’s father issued several accusations and threats. The jury finally granted the divorce decree and Mary’s mother headed for the train station escorted by several friends who were wary of Mr. Shannon’s threats. Mary’s mother boarded the train, waved to her friends and turned to settle into a seat when Mr. Shannon shot out of nowhere onto the train, yelled at her, and shot her two times with a pistol.

Bystanders quickly carried her off the train into the Belvidere depot, but Mary’s mother died in the baggage room before medical help arrived. Mr. Shannon was arrested and sentenced to hang for murder in Wheaton but received a pardon the night before the execution from Governor Dunne and was instead sent to the asylum for the criminally insane in Chester, Ill. where he later died. The city of Belvidere was charged $189.52 for the construction of the scaffolding plus $99.30 to escort Mr. Shannon to Wheaton and then to Chester.

When this horrible tragedy occurred, Mary was 30 years old, a housewife and mother to two sons. But, with true Belvidere grit, she vowed to prevent crimes like this from happening to anyone. Mary began to train for police work, and in 1913, at the age of 47, Mary Shannon Boyd became one of the first policewomen assigned to the Chicago police force. Mayor Carter Harrison assigned a historic group of ten women to the force to handle women and child offenders. Mary quickly proved her worth and worked her way up to detective within the year. Assigned juvenile cases at first, Mary’s work ethic earned her a coveted major crime beat at the Sheffield station where her arrests and detective work became legendary.

One of those legendary cases occurred in the winter of 1913, when Mary was newly assigned. Called to the scene of a streetcar altercation on North Clark Street, Mary confronted an unruly passenger who was beating up the conductor. When the passenger caught sight of Mary’s badge and was informed he was being put under arrest, he became irate and turned his physical blows on Mary. Mary managed to subdue the perpetrator by herself and secured him to a street post until the paddy wagon arrived. The unruly fighter tried to charge Mary with police brutality, but was convicted of battery and disorderly conduct with witness testimony. Mary’s actions helped prove that policewomen could do more than escort children to juvenile homes or patrol the Fourteenth Street beach.

In 1926, Mary single handedly tracked down the notorious labor slugger and gunman Ray Tagney. Labor sluggers were nefarious mob enforcers who would bomb a business or murder an owner or contractor if they did not comply. Tagney gunned down labor contractor Morris Markowitz in 1926 and went into hiding. Mary, with the support of her Sergeant, conducted a month long investigation that led to his arrest while he was sleeping at the home of a friend.

Mary’s detective career continued as she solved the murder of fellow detective Pendergrast and worked in the missing person’s bureau when she turned 64. Mary Shannon Boyd passed away on July 10, 1931 at the age of 66 after a short illness and is buried in Oakwoods Cemetery in Chicago. This March, please take a moment to think about the grit, courage, motivation, and determination of Mary and all police officers who brave danger every day to fight crime and keep us safe. Rest in Peace, Detective Mary Shannon Boyd-you served proudly and well.

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