Gwen Elliott, a champion of women’s and children’s rights, died from brain cancer at her home on Monday. She was 62. In 1976, Elliott and 11 others became the first women officers in the Pittsburgh Police Department. Elliott advanced to the position of commander, a position she held for 16 years until her retirement in 2002. She worked tirelessly to raise awareness of child abuse and sexual assault, and she created a family crisis and sexual assault unit to help the department better address violence against women and children.
Elliott’s experience in the police force led her to establish Gwen’s Girls, which began as an after-school program and developed into a group home to help at-risk or pregnant girls between the ages of eight and 18. She helped the girls learn the skills necessary to support themselves and their children.
A former National Guard and Air Force servicewoman, Elliott also sat on the advisory board of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP), which promotes the employment of female law enforcement officers as a strategy to improve police response to violence against women. NCWP Director Margaret Moore said of Elliott’s activism, “Gwen devoted her life to helping others, first as a police officer in Pittsburgh and then starting a non-profit to help young girls. We all learned from Gwen and she gave back in so many ways during her life. She will be missed.”
Elliott is survived by a son, a daughter, and three grandchildren.