First woman assistant superintendent of police
Brave, determined and articulate, Mary Quintal rose through the ranks of the Singapore Police to become the organisation’s highest ranking female officer. She joined the force as a constable in 1950 and was promoted to Assistant Superintendent in 1961.
Educated at Raffles Girls’ School, Mary was born Mary Voon. When she was young she had aspired to be an interior decorator or a physical training instructor. Her mother encouraged her to study medicine, but when Mary heard the police were planning to recruit women, she decided it was the career for her.
Mary was one of the first 10 women in Singapore to begin police training in 1949. Classes included studying law, marching, self-defence, and how to shoot with a .38 revolver. Mary quickly stood out from her peers, jumping at the chance to fight the black-belt judo instructor during class. Ambitious and focussed, Mary trained every day for a month. Eventually she became so good at judo that she broke her male instructor’s toe.
All 10 women trainees signed on to the police force on 1st January 1950. They were the first females in the Civil Service to receive the same pay as their male colleagues. After just a few months, Mary was promoted to the position of Singapore’s first female Inspector. In 1952 she was selected to travel to Britain for several months of training.
Living in a police women’s hostel in London, Mary made a big impression from the start. Aged just 21, she was courted by the press. Her story appeared in the national newspapers, alongside “admiring comments about her cheong sam and her well -spoken English.”
A journalist at the time records Mary as feeling “very proud and very determined to make the most of her opportunity and responsibility.”
The top crimes among women in Singapore in the early 1950s were gambling, prostitution and suicide. In Britain women were more commonly committing petty theft and shop-lifting, drug trafficking and smuggling.
On returning to Singapore, Mary headed the women’s squad for more than a decade. The gutsy Inspector had a strong sense of humour, regaling local journalists with stories of how she would often surprise unwitting offenders not expecting to encounter a female police officer.
In 1961 Mary was promoted to Assistant Superintendent, a role she held until she retired in 1974.
"I want to think more before I speak. I want to make up my mind carefully."