WACO, Texas (AP) - When Christine Nix started her law enforcement career 25 years ago in a small Texas town, suspects were so stunned to see a woman in a police uniform that they often surrendered without a struggle.
Many residents who reported burglaries, vandalism or other crimes looked at Nix and asked when the "real cop" would be arriving.
Through the years, Nix has seen women gradually become more accepted in a field still dominated by men.
Nix, who in 1994 became the first black woman hired by the Texas Rangers, is stepping down after 20 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety. Her retirement ceremony was Sunday in Waco.
"There are more women troopers now. I see them and say, `Where did you come from?' Before, I could name all of them," said Nix, 49. "I don't think we're where we should be, but it's come a long way."
In 1979, after finishing a stint with the Army Reserves, Nix was working at a car dealership in Temple when she heard that the Police Department was recruiting women.
She worked as a patrol officer for two years, then moved to another state as part of her military duties.
When she returned to Texas, she lived across the street from the Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin. She realized how much she missed law enforcement, so she decided to apply.
Seven women were in her academy class and only four graduated. But several men also dropped out during the strenuous "boot camp." Once, Nix's class was awakened at midnight to take a spelling test.
After Nix graduated from the academy in 1984, she worked in the Houston area in the driver's license office, where driving tests were an adventure.
One person hit a telephone pole in the parking lot; some people drove the wrong way down one-way streets, and one 18-wheeler ended up in a ditch. Another trucker hit an electric utility pole and the fallen wire draped over the truck, trapping Nix and the driver for hours.
"I took my life in my hands every day," Nix said, laughing.
In 1989 she decided to move into recruiting, and she was based in Waco covering 46 counties.
After a few years, she yearned to do investigative work for the Texas Rangers, the legendary state force that started in 1823 as a mounted militia to protect the new Texas frontier. The DPS arm now investigates major crimes and tracks fugitives.
Nix was hired in 1994, a year after the Texas Rangers started hiring women.
Soon after that, the Rangers and DPS faced a federal sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuit by two women investigators.
One said she was ridiculed after she refused to share a bunkhouse on an overnight retreat with male colleagues who were drinking and using vulgar language. Another said she was denied a promotion and was told she was too opinionated and a "woman's libber."
Nix, who was required to give depositions in the case, doesn't like to talk about that dark cloud in the agency's history.
"I was an unwilling participant in the whole thing. It wasn't my fight," Nix said.
The DPS started hiring women in 1972 and has been recruiting ever since, but the pool remains limited, said spokeswoman Tela Mange. Many choose their local police department because DPS cannot guarantee a job in a certain city, although chances for promotion are greater at DPS than smaller agencies, she said.
Today, of the 3,409 commissioned officers in the DPS, only 208 are women. The number is still too low, Mange said.
"We feel very committed to making the state's police force look like the state," Mange said.
After years of being called out in the middle of the night to investigate murders, Nix's most difficult challenge had nothing to do with her job.
Last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time. She underwent chemotherapy again, and this time had a radical mastectomy.
Nix recovered and returned to work but realized she was soon eligible for retirement. She decided to leave so she could spend more time with her two teenage children and earn a doctorate degree in criminology.
Nix, who hopes to teach criminal justice, says she has no regrets about her career.
"All of the good times and bad times, ups and downs make you who you are, and I'm happy with who I am," she said. "I'm getting ready to start on a whole new life adventure."