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First Female Private Detective: Kate Warne

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Artist's painting of Kate Warne, the first female private investigator.

Artist's painting of Kate Warne, the first female private investigator.

Kate Warne: The First Female Private Investigator

Not much is known about the life of Kate Warne before she worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1856, Warne went to the Pinkerton Agency offices and spoke with Allan Pinkerton. He assumed she wanted to have a job as a secretary. Warne was 23 years old and a widow.

She told Pinkerton she was interested in an advertisement his company had placed in a local Chicago magazine. The one that stated they were looking for a new detective. At this time, the idea of a woman working as a private detective was considered unthinkable.

Photograph of Kate Warne

Photograph of Kate Warne

Pinkerton Hires Warne

Allan Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency told Warne it is not his company's custom to employ female detectives. She asked him to hear what she had to say. Warne told Pinkerton that a woman would be able to get secrets from many places where a man would not succeed.

She said she could make friends with the girlfriends, wives, and even mistresses of suspects. This would put her in the perfect position to eavesdrop on unsuspecting men. Warne told Pinkerton that men love to brag about their exploits when women are around them.

Pinkerton decided to hire Warne. She quickly proved to be of immense value to the company.

Kate Warne in PInkerton Uniform

Kate Warne in PInkerton Uniform

Early Years

Kate Warne was born in 1830 or 1833 in Erin, New York. She came from a modest family and had a limited education. Warne wanted to become an actress, but her family voiced their opposition against the idea. She soon gave up on this dream. Warne described herself as a widow, but there are no official records of her husband or marriage.

Embezzlement Case

Warne's first case as a Pinkerton detective involved the Adams Express Company embezzlement.

In 1858, Warne earned the trust of the wife of Mr. Maroney. He was the main suspect in the case. It was believed Maroney stole the money and was involved in the death of a bank teller.

Warne was able to obtain important evidence that resulted in the conviction of Mr. Maroney. Her work provided evidence that proved Maroney was in Alabama when he embezzled $50,000 from the Adams Express Company. Warne's work resulted in over $39,000 of the embezzled funds being returned.

Maroney was found guilty of embezzlement and required to serve ten years in prison.

Assassination Plot

Pinkerton was hired by the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad in 1861 to investigate rumored secessionist activity. It is believed there was a plot to damage the railroad in Maryland.

Pinkerton dispatched several detectives to determine the validity of this plot. Warne was one of these agents. They soon learned the plot involved more than just damaging a railroad, it also involved an assassination attempt on president-elect Abraham Lincoln.

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton


During the investigation conducted by Pinkerton, a plot to assassinate president-elect Lincoln was discovered. It was to occur as he was on his way to receive the oath of office.

Warne tracked the movements of the Baltimore secessionists using an alias of Mrs. M. Barley, a wealthy Southern woman visiting Baltimore. Her thick southern accent was very believable. As she flirted with the secessionists, she was able to learn details about how the assassination attempt was going to happen.

President-Elect Lincoln Saved

During the train ride to Washington DC, Warne entered Lincoln's sleeping car with another Pinkerton detective disguised as President Lincoln. She loudly greeted the real Lincoln as she would her own brother.

Lincoln was removed from the sleeping car and taken to a special Philadelphia Railroad train. This train made its way to Washington DC on time. Warne's disguises made it possible for President Lincoln to take the oath of office for president without any interference.

Alan Pinkerton with Abraham Lincoln

Alan Pinkerton with Abraham Lincoln

Civil War

Kate Warne worked for Allan Pinkerton as part of war intelligence gathering for the Union Army during the Civil War. Warne proved her ability to be accepted in southern social gatherings. She was able to obtain many secrets a male detective would have been unable to get.

Warne would pose as Pinkerton's wife, mistress, sister, and more. They set up their service for Major General George B. McClellan. Their headquarters were located in Cincinnati, Ohio. They provided important military intelligence for the Union Army during the entire war.

Post-Civil War

When the Civil War was over, Kate Warne continued working on high-profile cases. One of them was the murder of bank-teller George Gordon. The killer got away with over $120,000. Warne went undercover as Mrs. Potter. With this disguise, she was able to become good friends with the suspect's wife. Warne was then able to obtain enough information to get a conviction and discover the location where the money had been hidden.

Pinkerton Company Logo

Pinkerton Company Logo

Women's History

Allan Pinkerton described Kate Warne as one of the five best detectives who had ever worked for his company.

Her employment with the Pinkerton organization was an important moment in women's history. Women were not able to work in any aspect of law enforcement until 1891. They were unable to work as police officers until 1910.

In his memoirs, Pinkerton acknowledges the skill and abilities of Warne. When Pinkerton established a Female Detective Bureau, she was made Supervisor of Woman Agents.


Kate Warne passed away in 1868 of pneumonia. She was 35 or 38 years old. After her death, nobody knew of any family she had to be returned to. Warne was buried in the Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. She was buried in the Pinkerton family plot.


Kate Warne | Wikipedia

The Untold Story Of Kate Warne, The World’s First Female Private Eye | All That Is Interesting

The Story of Kate Warne, America's First Female Private Detective | Mental Floss

Union Spy And First Female Private Investigator | History of American Women

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on October 05, 2021:

Peggy, thanks. I agree with you.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 05, 2021:

Kate Warne was certainly an impressive woman who made history. It is nice that the Pinkerton family plot was used for her burial since she did not seem to have family members to claim her body when she died.

Readmikenow (author) on October 05, 2021:

Yves, thanks.

Readmikenow (author) on October 05, 2021:

Linda, thanks. I agree, she was an impressive woman.

savvydating on October 05, 2021:

Fascinating! What a clever woman, indeed. It is a shame she died so young. Really interesting story, Mike.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 05, 2021:

This is a very interesting article. I’ve never heard of Kate Warne before. Thank you for sharing her story. It sounds like she was an impressive woman.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 05, 2021:

Mike, you're welcome.

Readmikenow (author) on October 05, 2021:

Umesh, thanks.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 05, 2021:

Interesting article about the first lady detective.

Readmikenow (author) on October 05, 2021:

Miebakagh, thanks.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 05, 2021:

Mike, very interesting read indeed. Much thanks.