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Kate Warne: The First Female Detective in the U.S.

I love history and the events that built our great country. Some events have details unknown by the average person and they are interesting.

Kate Warne

Kate Warne

Kate Warne was a Scottish immigrant who worked as a deputy sheriff for the Chicago police department, then the Pinkerton Detective Agency. She was born in Erin, Chemung County, New York in 1830 or 1833 to Israel and Elizabeth Hulbert, then she died of pneumonia on January 28, 1868.

Kate Warne was not well educated, and she came from modest means. Her desire was to become an actress, which her family opposed. She stated she was a widow by the age of 23, but very little is known about her life before her career began at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency offices in Chicago.

Pinkerton National Detective Agency

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was named after Allan Pinkerton. He was a Scottish immigrant that worked as a Chicago deputy sheriff until he opened his private detective agency. Pinkerton became very well known for its very diligent approach to law enforcement. They were able to solve crimes that perplexed the local police. His agency quickly had offices in several cities.

Her Pinkerton Career

Kate Warne walked into the Chicago office in 1856 and stated she had seen Pinkerton’s ad in the newspaper. She wanted the job. Alan Pinkerton promptly told her sorry, but they did not need any clerical staff. He was taken aback that a woman would apply for a detective position. He explained to Kate that women were simply not suited for a detective position.

He later described her as having a "commanding" presence, as she insisted she was there to apply for the detective position. She eloquently made her case as she told Alan Pinkerton that women have access to places male detectives do not and that women can befriend the wives and girlfriends of suspects. She stated women could gather information from these women. Kate pointed out that men tended to become braggarts around women, as they boasted of their exploits. She also thought women had a keen eye for detail. Alan Pinkerton hired her that day, so she became the first female detective in the United States.

Kate quickly proved herself. She solved a major embezzlement case as she befriended the wife of the suspect. Not only did she gather adequate information to convict the thief, she located where the embezzled funds were hidden. Almost all of the money was recovered.

In another case, she posed as a fortune teller and was able to extract a confession from a suspect. At this point, Alan Pinkerton was so impressed that he created a Women’s Detective Bureau within the Pinkerton agency, putting Kate in charge. He called the women "The Pinks" and Warne eventually managed 15 women detectives.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Her Most Famous Case

In February, 1861, Alan Pinkerton was hired by the Wilmington and Baltimore railroad to investigate rumors of threats against the railroad. However, he discovered a more nefarious plot, which was to kill Abraham Lincoln before his inauguration. Abraham Lincoln was encouraged to use an alternate route to travel to Washington. He was not willing to change the route or cancel his speaking engagement in Baltimore

Pinkerton assigned Kate Warne to the case. She took the persona of "Mrs. Cherry," a Southern woman who infiltrated the secessionist movement that planned the assassination. She was able to learn the details of their scheme to the "Baltimore Plot." Pinkerton resorted to a backup plan.

Kate Warne smiled as she greeted a stooped-over Lincoln, who was disguised as an invalid. Warne posed as his caregiver and stated Lincoln was her brother. He was covered by a shawl to hide his facial features. She told anyone who asked that her brother had taken ill and just needed some breathing room. She also slipped cash to the conductor, while urging him to not put anyone else in the rear of their car. She was accompanied by three other men as well.

Afterward, she described her sleepless night with the president. Pinkerton was then inspired to adopt the motto “We never sleep,” and it was always associated with his agency.

kate-warne-first-female-detective

Female Detectives

The female detectives under Kate Warne’s supervision conducted numerous risky operations during the Civil War. Kate was skilled at impersonating a Confederate sympathizer, which gave her access to very valuable intelligence. Unfortunately, many records burned in 1871 during the Great Chicago Fire.

She continued to handle many dangerous assignments following the war, and she spent time overseeing the agency’s growing staff of female detectives. In Alan Pinkerton’s book The Spy of the Rebellion written in 1883, he described Kate Warne as "a commanding person, with clear cut, expressive features . . . a slender, brown-haired woman, graceful in her movements and self-possessed. Her features, although not what could be called handsome [beautiful], were decidedly of an intellectual cast . . . her face was honest, which would cause one in distress instinctively to select her as a confidante."

A Remarkable Woman

Kate Warne was a remarkable woman, and she died before her time. Her work for the Pinkerton Detective Agency was remarkable, and she pioneered a new field for women in the mid-1800s. She was the first woman detective in the United States. She was clever, and she was willing to do whatever it took to solve a case. Warne paved the way for women to work in law enforcement, which is really her legacy.

References

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 Pamela Oglesby

Comments

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 10, 2021:

Hi Mike,

She was a remarkable person for sure. I am glad you enjoyed reading about her, Thanks for your comments.

Readmikenow on February 10, 2021:

Excellent article! She was an incredible person. I really enjoyed reading about her.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 10, 2021:

Hi Flourish,

i loved that she had answers to prove herself too, and she was very clever in her work. She is amazing considering that timeframe for sure.

I appreciate your comments. Take care.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 10, 2021:

What a wonderful article! I never heard of this clever lady but sure do admire her spunk, especially given the sexism of the times. I especially like how she seemed to have an answer for every excuse to professionally exclude her and then she brought other women along with her.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 09, 2021:

Hi Ravi,

I am glad you found the article interesting. Thank you for taking the time to read and for your comments.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on February 09, 2021:

Interesting history about Kate Warne. I did not know about her so learned something new today. Thanks for sharing.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 09, 2021:

Hi Devika,

I think most of us did not know about this amazing woman. I am glad you found this artice informative. Thank you so much for your comments. Take care.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 09, 2021:

I didn't know about Kate Warne your thorough research has enlightened me. Interesting, informative and knowledge is power.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 09, 2021:

Hi John,

When I read something about Kate Warne I knew I needed to do a bit of research.

I am glad you found the article interesting. I appreciate your comments, John.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 09, 2021:

Hi Alyssa,

Kate Warne may have had "street smarts", which is a term I have not heard in a long time.

I am glsf you enjoyed this article, and your comments are appreciated. Take care.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 09, 2021:

Hi MG,

Women were definitelycdsonfined to their homes in that timeframe. I think sge must have been very clever and brave.

Thank you for reading and commenting. I am glad you found this interesting.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on February 08, 2021:

This was something a little different from you, Pamela. I found it extremely interesting. What an amazing and resourceful woman Kate Warne was.

Alyssa from Ohio on February 08, 2021:

What a fascinating lady! She may not have been well-educated, but she was certainly intelligent and had many skills. This was an interesting read! Thank you Pamela!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 08, 2021:

This is a very interesting article. Frankly, I must thank you for bringing out the life of this great lady who did all this in a time when women were mostly confined to the home.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Sp,

I am so glad you enjoyed reading this article. I was glad to read that a woman could break those barriers at that time in history. She was brave!

Thank you so much for your nice comments.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on February 08, 2021:

This was such a fascinating read. I had never heard about this woman before. It's great to know that some employers recognised the skills that woman possessed in that era and gave them an opportunity.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Adrienne,

I like the name "The Pinks" too. She proved that a woman could do the job. Detectives had always been males before her.

I'm glad you found the article informative. Thank you so much for your coments. Have a good week!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Linda,

As for Kate Ward's determination, Ann stated since she was of Scottish descent that she sould be a strong character. She sure was clever and smart.

It was a pleasure writing something different, especially about a woman that broke down barriers.

I am glad you really liked the article, and I appreciate your comments. Have a wonderful week, Linda.

Adrienne Farricelli on February 08, 2021:

This was an interesting read and I learned many things I didn't know about this line of work. She sure made some valid points about women offering several advantages and it's great she solved many cases. The name "the Pinks" suited female detectives very well!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on February 08, 2021:

Pamela, this was certainly a departure from your usual, and I am so glad that you wrote this. Absolutely fascinating, and you told the story well. What an amazing person. I'm impressed that she was such a strong individual--women were not raised to be so bold and forthright in those days.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Ann,

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I had not thought about her Scottish ancestry impacting her strength and resolve. She was remarkable, and she did a good service for women.

I am glad you enjoyed the article, Ann. Thank you for your generous comments. Have a good week!

Ann Carr from SW England on February 08, 2021:

This is a fascinating and delightful story, Pamela. What a remarkable woman she was! I love the story regarding Lincoln - how instrumental she was in saving him and therefore saving the country I suppose. Shame that she died before her time. Her Scottish ancestry put her in good stead - they are a strong and determined race! Also great that she put women on the map regarding law enforcement.

Thanks for this education. One of the best informative articles I've read for a long time.

Ann

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Chitrangada,

Every once in a while I find a topic that is differnt, and this I thought Kate Warne was so interesting.She was certainly brave.

I appreciate your comments.Have a good week.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 08, 2021:

Interesting to know about the first female detective, Kate Warne. Good narration by you about this brave woman. I loved those precious pictures. She looks powerful in the portrait.

Thank you for sharing this, something different from your usual topics, but done extremely well.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Peg,

I found that idea fascinating as well. She was able to break down barriers.

I appreciate your comments. Have a good week!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Peggy,

Yes, that is exactly what she proved. She must have been an inspiration to other women.

Thank you for your comments. Hsve a good week!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Shauna,

That is exactly what I thought when I happened to read just a few words about het. hen, I did a bit of research and was surprised. She was a pioneer for women, and I think she was very brave.

I am glad you enjoyed the article. Have a wonderful week, Shauna.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on February 08, 2021:

What a fascinating story and inspiring that a woman of that era could break the barriers into the man's club of detective work.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 08, 2021:

Thanks for educating us about the first female detective in the Pinkerton Agency. She proved that women are just as valuable as men in that type of work.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 08, 2021:

Thank you for posting this article, Pamela. Although I've never heard of her, Kate Warne was a true pioneer for women living in a man's world. What a legacy to leave!

This was very interesting. I enjoyed learning about this headstrong woman!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Heidi,

I agree, especially knowing in which she lived. She broke down barriers for women. I wish she could have lived longer.

Thanks so much for your comments. Have a good week.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 08, 2021:

Wow, what a tough lady! Thanks for sharing this incredible story of early feminism.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Manatita,

It sounds like you and your brother have had some interesting experiences.A policeman is quite different from a nurse.

Kate Warne was a brave and clever woman. It is nice to read about anyone who brakes through barriers.

I appreciate your comments. Have a good week.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Misbah,

I think Kate Warne was intelligent and brave for sure. It is always nice to learn of someone like her. Thank you so much for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hii Bill,

It was nice to wirte something quite different. I love history too, and that is how I learned of Kate Warne..

I am glad you enjoyed the article, Bill. Have a good week!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Ankita,

Kate Warne surely hd a lot of deterination, and I think she was very clever. Thank you for your commwnts. Take care.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Vidya,

She was a brave and clever woman for sure, and as you said this was at a time when women didn't easily get this type of opportunities.

I ppreciate your comments. Take care, Vidya.

manatita44 from london on February 08, 2021:

Beautifully written and a very brave woman. Hats off to her for her courage.

I joined the Royal Grenada Police Force at 18 and left for London UK at 21. I came first in law and they asked me to be a detective, but I declined. I also went for the job as an undercover in Manhattan, New York, but again backed out.

My brother was an engineer in the US Army and took a job as a surveillance expert. he was excellent at electronics and we never knew where he was. He's finally retired.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on February 08, 2021:

Kate seems to be intelligent and brave. An inspiring character... Thanks Pamela for sharing

Blessings

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 08, 2021:

That was fascinating! Quite a departure from your usualy articles, and thoroughly enjoyable. I had no idea there were female Pinkertons. As a lover of history, I loved this article, my friend.

Ankita B on February 08, 2021:

I loved reading this article, Pamela. Kate Warne was surely an exceptional person with a lot of determination and intelligence. Thank you for sharing this article.

VIDYA D SAGAR on February 08, 2021:

A very interesting and inspiring read Pamela. At a time when women did not have opportunitiea and that too in a field fraught with risk she really did a remarkable job. She set a precedent for women achievers. thanks for sharing this amazing article.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

eHi Ms Dora,

This lady sure had a lot of determination. I am glad you enjoyed the articlw. I thought she was a truly an inspiration for women. So many women worked to break down those barriers.

Thank you so much for your commwnts.Have a great week!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 08, 2021:

Kudos to Kate Warne, and to you Pam for the research and the interesting presentation. Kate's determination and clever performances are exemplary of outstanding productive womanhood.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:

Hi Rosina,

I think she was all those things you wrote. She was an amazing lady, and it is aa shame she died so young.

Thank you for your comments.

Rosina S Khan on February 08, 2021:

I am keen to know about Kate Warne, the first female detective in the nineteenth century. Her contributions make her look like wise, intelligent, brave and skilled in her work. Thank you, Pamela, for this beautiful contribution.

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