Gertrude Schimmel, first woman to become NYPD sergeant, dead at 96

May 12, 2015

By Ginger Adams Otis

May 11, 2015

Gertrude Schimmel, a trailblazing NYPD cop who became its first woman sergeant and opened the door for generations of others, died Monday of natural causes. She was 96.

Born in 1918 in the Bronx, Schimmel was the youngest of three children in a family of Jewish immigrants from Galicia.

She overcame a childhood blighted by the Great Depression and an early career hemmed in by sexism to become the NYPD’s first female sergeant — and then its first lieutenant and captain.

By the time Schimmel retired in 1981, she’d risen through the ranks of deputy inspector, inspector and finally deputy chief.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton lauded Schimmel’s “very distinguished career” on Monday when announcing her death.

“(She was) a real trend-setter (who broke) a very significant glass ceiling in the deparment many years ago,” Bratton said.

Her family said Schimmel was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker who used her braying voice and Bronx accent to great effect.

“Subtle is not a word you would use for her,” her youngest son Edward Schimmel, 62, fondly recalled.

“She was definitely a New Yorker, there was no doubt about it, she always said that she loved the city and was honored to serve it. The city gave her everything from her education through her career,” said Schimmel.

She attended public school and then Hunter College, where she studied English, he said.

After graduation, Gertrude Schimmel sat for several city jobs — taking the civil service exam for teacher as well as police woman.

The NYPD called her up first and in 1940, Schimmel became part of a historic class of 18 women — and 300 men — to join the police department.

She married Alfred Schimmel and raised Edward along with his older brother Victor in the Bronx.

She worked the night shift as a police woman so she could spend her mornings and nights home with her boys, the family said.

It was unusual for a married woman to work outside the home, but Schimmel didn’t make a big deal about her NYPD job, her son said.

“She was a typical Jewish mother, except she couldn’t cook,” said Edward Schimmel, who lost his father in 2006 and his older brother in 2000.

But by 1961, Gertrude Schimmel was ready for more — and tired of being told she and other women couldn’t take the promotional civil service exams that brought more responsibility and more money.

By law, only men could become superior officers — until Schimmel and another pioneering woman, Felicia Shpritzer, sued the NYPD.

After three years and a courtroom battle that went all the way to the New York State Court of Appeals, Schimmel and Shpritzer won.

In 1965 Schimmel became the department’s first female sergeant. Two years later she was a lieutenant and by 1971 a captain.

The rest of her appointments were at the discretion of the police commissioner, her son said.

When she retired, Schimmel and her husband moved to the Upper West Side from the

Bronx. She devoted herself to her other life passions: poker and her four grandchildren.

“Whenever she would hear one of us talk about how much we’re paying for college she would say, ‘I went to college for $6,” said Diana Schimmel, 30.

“She loved saying that she paid 50 cents a semester for library fees and $2 for a diploma — she had that classic booming New York voice and she would tell these stories and cackle at herself,” the granddaughter said.

Her forward-thinking grandmother taught the grandkids how to play poker, blackjack and craps.

She also still packed a pistol, carrying heat with her when she would travel to visit the family in Pennsylvania, said Diana Schimmel, the oldest grandchild.

“I’m a lawyer and she told me she almost went to law school at night,” said the granddaughter.

“When I was studying for the bar exam about five years ago, she was able to rattle off all the elements for robbery, burglary and breaking-and-entering. Even in her early 90s, she remembered each element.”

Although happily married for decades, Schimmel encouraged her grandchildren to take their time picking a spouse.

“She always told me, ‘Don’t get married until you’re 30,” said Diana Schimmel. “And I got engaged in the fall and I said, ‘Look, I waited until I was 30,’ and she said to me, ‘Ah, wait until you’re 40.’

The Schimmel family said it will announce plans for a memorial service in coming days.

Schimmel is survived by her son and daughter-in-law Edward and Marlene Schimmel, daughter-in-law Syndey Schimmel; 102-year-old sister Frances Weinstein and granchildren Diana Schimmel, Amelia Schimmel, Joanna Schimmel and Gregory Schimmel.

Originally published by The Daily News