Sybil Plumlee, American teacher and police officer, died she was 100.
Sybil Virginia Plumlee was an American teacher, caseworker and pioneering Portland, Oregon police officer who became the oldest living former member of the city’s police force before her death died she was 100..
(née Burgess; April 29, 1911 – January 6, 2012)
Born in Seattle in 1911, Plumlee attended high school in Portland and graduated from Oregon Normal School, now known as Western Oregon University. She became a school teacher in Clarno, Oregon,
but later returned to Portland, married and had a son. Following a
divorce in 1943, she worked as an educator with the Ellis Mining Company
in Bourne, Oregon. In 1945 she married Virgil “Paul” Plumlee, who died in 2010.
From 1947 to 1967 Plumlee served in the Portland Police Bureau
unit then known as the Women’s Protective Division. She is recognized
as a pioneer in the law enforcement field, which was dominated by men.
Plumlee wrote an unpublished memoir of her time on the police force
called “Badge 357” and at age 96 published the book Stories of Hester Ann Bolin Harvey and Her Family, a collection of family stories and history. Plumlee died in 2012.
Early life, education and career
Sybil Burgess was born April 29, 1911 in Seattle, Washington, the daughter of Charles and Stella Burgess. The family moved to Portland, where she attended both Lincoln High School and Jefferson High School, graduating from Jefferson in 1930. After graduating from Oregon Normal School (now Western Oregon University) she worked for a time as a teacher in a one-room school in Clarno, Oregon.
She returned to Portland, married Lloyd Barker (also a teacher) and had
a son named Louis Barker. The couple divorced in 1943. Sybil remained a
single mother during World War II, working as a teacher with the Ellis Mining Company in Bourne, Oregon and buying a house in nearby Sumpter for $150. In 1945, she married Virgil P. “Paul” Plumlee. She survived the 1948 flooding of Vanport City, Oregon. Plumlee also worked at various times as a soda fountain clerk at a drugstore in northeast Portland and as a cab driver.
Plumlee became a caseworker for the Clackamas County Welfare Department after a female police officer encouraged her to take a civil servant test. She passed the test and was selected to join the force’s single open position from a pool of 300 applicants. Plumlee served from 1947 to 1967 in the unit then known as the Women’s Protective Division.
Policewomen in that division did not work with male officers and did
not wear uniforms. Their work focused on crimes such as child abuse,
domestic violence and rape that generally were investigated in privacy. Records also show that Plumlee participated in undercover investigations, including one anti-homosexual campaign led by Mayor of Portland Dorothy McCullough Lee.
In 1949 the Women’s Protective Division sent Plumlee and Edna Trout to
Music Hall, known in the 1940s for catering to gay men and lesbians,
with the intent to “apprehend lesbians who might approach them and
According to Louis Barker, his mother became a police officer “for
the money” rather than to “make the world safe”; the household needed
her income and she was also contributing to the support of her mother.
Plumlee later said of the unit: “In some ways, the old Women’s
Protective Division was archaic, but on balance we did a lot of good.” Plumlee is recognized as a pioneer in the law enforcement field, which was largely dominated by men.
Plumlee purchased her first computer when she was in her eighties and continued driving until age 98. Her husband died in 2010. She celebrated her centennial birthday at her residence in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Guests included Multnomah County Sheriff
Daniel Staton, Lt. Mary Lindstrand and Frank Springer, the oldest
living male retiree of the Portland Police Bureau. Birthday wishes and
certificates of appreciation were also offered by President Barack Obama and Mayor of Portland Sam Adams. Plumlee died in 2012 and was survived by her son, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Before her death, Plumlee was the oldest surviving former member of the Portland Police Bureau.
Writing and other interests
Plumlee wrote an unpublished memoir of her time on the police force called “Badge 357”. At age 96, she published the book Stories of Hester Ann Bolin Harvey and Her Family.
The collection of stories, such as her grandmother’s journey across the
Oregon Trail in 1850, included photographs and more than a century of
family history. Plumlee also enjoyed camping, fishing and traveling.
To see more of who died in 2011 click here