It seemed almost immediate: Right after the death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972, the FBI began opening up training to women who were qualified candidates. At Hoover's funeral was a young female Marine, sent to Washington as a representative of the U.S. Navy. As soon as Hoover's replacement offered the title of "special agent" to women, that Marine was one of the first ones to go to Quantico.
Susan Roley Malone (pictured above in red) wanted to be an FBI agent ever since she was tasked to give a presentation on a federal agency in the eighth grade. She chose the FBI–inspired in part by Jimmy Stewart's role in The FBI Story. The young Malone was supposed to research the agency, interview special agents, and tell her class about career opportunities, even though she would not be eligible for them. This presentationa sparked a passion as she grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. She read books about the FBI. She watched movies about the FBI. When it came time to serve her country, however, she wasn't allowed to join as an agent. So she became a Marine.
She and another woman–a former nun named Joanne Pierce (pictured above in the background)–went to the FBI academy on July 17, 1972–little more than two months after Hoover's death. Her FBI career would include investigating the Patti Hearst kidnapping, organized crime, and monitoring foreign nationals.
The hostility began right away–and abated just as quickly. At lunch, some male agent trainees sat around her and began to grill her on her dedication to training with the Bureau.
"Why are you here?"
"Who are you?"
"Why do you want to be here?"
"What makes you think you can be an FBI agent?"
Her answer was curt but honest. She sat down and told them what's what: She was there for the same reason any man was there. She loved her country just like anyone else. She wanted to continue to serve, now in law enforcement. She knew the FBI and the work it did. She cherished their work and she wasn't going anywhere.
"It's like any organization," Malone says. "When you're the first and you're a pioneer, you know, you're going to get push back from some people. But I got a lot people that helped, a lot of people that held out their hands, and were colleagues and allies to help. Those people that didn't help or were maybe nasty to me, they have to walk in their own skin and you know they probably didn't feel good about themselves, I can't say."
Her first field office was Omaha, Nebraska, wrangling cattle rustlers, which she thought was a cruel joke at first, chasing down cattle rustling in the 1970s. It turns out that stealing cattle was a big business. But she was a good agent—and dedicated one. She began making arrests right away and quickly made the first arrest ever by a female FBI agent.
"I am where I am today because of the talents and gifts of many people that have opened doors for me," she says. That have assisted me along on my journey. And especially some of the people that I recall that were FBI agents ... These people had such talent and they were willing to share it. They were willing to take a young agent, whether it was a man or women, and share that talent. And for that I am grateful."
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This article originally appeared on We Are The Mighty.
Featured photo courtesy of FBI