Alma M. Poole, 84, ran city's jail for women and juveniles

November 21, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Alma Marie Poole, Baltimore's last police matron, died Monday of complications of heart surgery at Union Memorial Hospital. She was 84 and lived in Edgewood.

When she retired in April 1971, Mrs. Poole had the distinction of being the city's only turnkey matron. She ran the women's and juvenile detention program at the old Pine Street police station near Lexington Street in West Baltimore.

In her 19 years on the job, she was responsible for searching and supervising female prisoners and juveniles in her jurisdiction. Many were repeat offenders who got to know her -- and respect her office, relatives said.

"The people she locked up would bring her Valentine's presents, candy and gifts when they sobered up," said her son, Wade H. Poole of Edgewood. "They only thing that hampered her was her size. She was short, and had to jump on a cot once to defend herself against an unruly charge."

When she retired in 1971, she told a Sun reporter that being a police matron wasn't always easy. Through the years, she was choked, kicked, bitten and scratched by the women and juveniles she put in cells.

"Last June," she said, referring to a 1970 incident, "an 18-year-old girl kicked me and knocked me against a rail. That took out the last little bit of starch in me, and I decided to retire."

When she joined the Police Department in 1950, she was one of 18 matrons who worked in shifts in the city's eight police districts. They all retired, and the police rules regarding women's employment changed.

In 1952, under former Police Commissioner Beverly Ober's administration, all women prisoners and juveniles were incarcerated at the old Pine Street Station, a Victorian structure.

The building, which earned its place in local police history as the holding place for 500 prisoners per month, is preserved today as the security headquarters of the University of Maryland.

"Sure it's old," Poole said of the locally legendary building during her 1971 interview. "But what can you do? It's just one of those things."

Born Alma Marie Bazzani in South Baltimore, she was raised on Hilltop Avenue in Hamilton. She was a 1931 graduate of Eastern High School. In 1932, she married Allen J. Poole Sr., a firefighter assigned to the city's fireboats. He died in 1987.

After her retirement, she moved to Harpers Ferry, W. Va., and lived there until 1997.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Dec. 4 at St. Stephen's Roman Catholic Church, 8030 Bradshaw Road, Bradshaw.

In addition to her son, she is survived by another son, Allen J. Poole Jr. of Joppa; a sister, Anita Vitali of Baltimore; eight grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and one great-great grandson.

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