The white two-story house at 2702 Elsinore Ave was once the home of Violet Hill Whyte, the first African-American police officer in the Baltimore City Police Force. It was through her service as an officer and a social worker that Whyte became a beloved and well-respected pillar of her community.
Violet Whyte (born Violet Hill) was born in Washington, D.C. on November 18th, 1897 and moved to Baltimore as a young girl. After graduating from Douglass High School and Coppin State College, Hill became a public school teacher. She taught grammar for 6 years until she got married and had children with George Sumner Whyte, who was the principal of Public School No. 111 at the time. In the following years, Violet Whyte became a prominent social worker in her community. She became a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1931 and continued to serve in many different roles with the WCTU until 1976. Before becoming an officer, she was also a member of the Civic League advisory board and the Negro State Republican League, the executive secretary of the Parent-Teacher Federation, and president of the Intercity Child Study Association.
On December 3, 1937, Whyte was appointed an officer of the Baltimore Northwestern District Police Force. At the time, the Baltimore Police Department had never allowed an African American to become a police officer. However, on June 1st, 1937, William P. Lawson replaced Charles D. Gaither as Baltimore Police Commissioner. In his first six months, Lawson decided to end the BPD’s policy of barring African Americans from becoming police officers.
The station where Whyte was assigned to work served one of the largest police districts in Baltimore. Two days after her appointment, she arrested murder suspect Violet Key. The next day, over 100 Baltimoreans crowded into the station to celebrate her induction as an officer. The crowd showered her with floral arrangements and congratulations as she formally accepted her post.
Whyte worked incredibly hard. She handled homicide, abuse, assault, narcotics and robbery cases. Once, she went undercover in order to arrest the members of a narcotics gang. She even worked up to 20 hours on some days. She handed out food and gifts during holidays, and inspired local children to stop skipping school. This dedication to helping the community through both law enforcement and charity led her to be described as a “one-woman-police-force and a one-woman-social-worker combined.” In 1965, she was promoted to sergeant. Two years later in October 1967, she was promoted again to the rank of Lieutenant, a first for both African Americans and women in the BPD.
Finally, on December 3rd, 1967, Whyte retired from the police force 30 years to the day after she was appointed. She never missed a day of work. Even after retiring, she volunteered at the Western District Station to organize charity events. She also continued to be involved in many other community and charity organizations. On July 17th, 1980, after a lifetime of service, Violet Hill Whyte passed away at the age of 82.
A historical sign at the corner of N Payson St and W Franklin St honors the massive impact Whyte had on the city of Baltimore. Violet Hill Whyte Way near the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus was also named after her.