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  • Diane Janowski

Matron Bruner of City Hall

By Diane Janowski, Elmira City Historian



I do a lot of research using old Star-Gazette newspapers. One of the names I often see is Police Matron Mary Bruner. Who was Mary Bruner?

Police matrons in the 1800s were called “petticoat cops.” The job description for a Police Matron said she “would reside day and night in the Police Station. She would have under her care all arrested women and children, and she was always on duty.

Elmira’s first police matron was Mrs. Esther Wilkin in 1885. In 1892, she worked 294 days in lodging and board for 135 prisoners, abandoned women, children, and witnesses. Before the new city hall in 1895, the “female station house” was at 214 Baldwin Street (about where M&M is today).


Two matrons served after Mrs. Wilkin, a Mrs. Smith, and Mrs. Esther D. Williams.


After the new city hall opened in 1895, the matron lived in an “apartment” with a cell on the second floor of City Hall above police headquarters.


A case in early April 1900 begged, “What authority has the police matron to hold a prisoner after indictment?” The ‘female station’ is open so anyone can go up the stairs and to the cell doors anytime. There is only one matron, and she must sleep sometimes. Suppose someone interested in stopping further developments should possess a key to the cell locks and unlock the cell door while the matron sleeps. What is to hinder the blame from being fastened on the police matron? Is the law’s intent, creating police matrons, to allow indicted prisoners to be kept in the same quarters with innocent persons who have not even been committed for examination?’


On April 28, 1900, the Star-Gazette reported, “In Elmira, the police matron’s job was described as not a county official but is appointed by the mayor to keep female prisoners before commitment. She has no more authority under the law over a prisoner after indictment than the matron of the Orphans’ Home.”


Police Chief Cassada’s report of February 1900 shows that the year 1899 saw 1,160 arrests, with 136 in July, the highest month. Of the prisoners arrested, 1,072 were male, and 88 were female. The report of the police matron shows that she had 140 persons under her care (87 females over the age of 14, seven under that age, and forty-six boys under the age of 14).


Mrs. Mary Jennie Bruner was appointed Elmira’s police matron on August 7, 1902.


Mrs. Bruner saw some action at Elmira’s City Hall. In 1905, prisoner Mary Donahue escaped Bruner’s grasp and climbed onto the narrow ledge below the second-story windows. Donahue scaled around the building, found an open window, climbed back in, jumped to the first-floor landing, and calmly walked out the front door.


Mrs. Bruner died of a heart attack on Nov 13, 1933. She had served continuously for 31 years as a matron for the city police department. The officers and city officials well respected her. She was always forceful when necessary and sympathetic. She did much to comfort those who were placed in her charge. Officials said she contributed to the general atmosphere at police headquarters. One of her sons was Elmira police detective M. Lynn Bruner.


The Elmira Police Department honors the name of Mary Bruner with an annual Police Officer of the Year award.





Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York) 05 Feb 1900, Mon Page 7 

Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York) 15 Nov 1933, Wed Page 15


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