Women of ATF

Images of women ATF agents

More than 100 years ago, ATF was created to serve as the federal agency responsible for investigating criminal activities and organizations with a focus on making communities across the nation safe. Since the beginning, women have played a critical role in enforcing federal laws, capturing violent criminals and making historic changes in law enforcement that still hold true today.

Today, the women of ATF serve in diverse roles throughout the agency, from law enforcement and regulation to intelligence, investigation, forensics, research, and mission support. Every day, they overcome a variety of emerging threats and challenges to help keep local communities safe from violent crimes.

Historic Forerunners

While part of the U.S. Treasury Department, ATF was originally responsible for enforcing the National Prohibition Law of 1919, also known as the Volstead Act. Female prohibition agents such as Georgia Hopley and Hannah Brigham worked to uncover evidence of criminal activities and dismantle illegal alcohol trafficking organizations.

Not only did they combat illegal distilling, sales and distribution of alcohol, but they also served as a deterrent for bootleggers who had recruited women as smugglers during an era male agents couldn’t touch them due to cultural norms of the time. ATF recruited these agents to serve their country and uphold the law during a time when women were still fighting for their right to vote.

These women served with bravery and dedication alongside colleagues that did not readily respect their contributions as members of the law enforcement community. The groundbreaking achievements of the first female prohibition agents allow us to celebrate all the women who have served, and are serving, for their significant contributions to ATF and the present home, the Department of Justice, at large.

Modern Influencers and Trailblazers

Over the years, ATF changed its focus to adapt as well as respond to the evolving trends in violent crimes. This included recruiting a new group of women who specialize in tactical law enforcement, science, technology and forensics as well as mission support staff.

They are the everyday heroes who carry out ATF’s mission while creating new ways of conducting the business of law enforcement. Their predecessors built a strong foundation for them to thrive, and as a result, many female agents and other professionals have since sworn to uphold offices across ATF reaching our most senior levels of the Senior Executive Service.

This includes women like Special Agent Grace Reisling, ATF’s first special agent canine handler, who shattered glass ceilings as a law enforcement trailblazer by creating and leading ATF’s canine pilot program. Her innovative approaches launched ATF’s globally recognized Canine Division and Canine Training Center, which continue to shine as beacons that light the way for the nation’s law enforcement community today.

Then there is Special Agent Misty Waytes, who is ATF’s first African American female firearms instructor. She defied the odds to excel in a mostly male-dominated field by becoming an expert in firearms, marksmanship and investigative skills. She channeled her weapons expertise into teaching firearms proficiency and mentoring others to reach their professional potential.

Today, we recognize the many obstacles that women still have to overcome to carry out their mission, and the doors they open for the women who follow. ATF continues to strive to ensure that brave women who led us here will continue to be an inspiration and motivation for the future trailblazers yet to come.

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