It’s National Women’s History Month. In recognition of the vital role women played in American history, we would like to recognize a notable woman, Kate Warne, Pinkerton’s first female detective — and likely America’s first female detective. So much has been written about this trailblazer, even from Allan Pinkerton himself. After all, she boldly persuaded Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, to hire her because she could infiltrate social gatherings where a male counterpart could not. When it came to solving crimes, no one expected a woman detective, especially not one so adept at putting people at ease and drawing out their secrets. Her early success led Pinkerton to declare, “Female detectives must be allowed in my agency,” and ask Warne to oversee a team of women agents whose cunning efforts dawned a new era for women in security. Read what Pinkerton wrote about Kate Warne and her team of Lady Pinks.
Hiring Kate Warne
Below is an excerpt from Allan Pinkerton’s book, The Expressman and the Detective, first published in 1874.
Two years prior to the time of which I am now writing, I was seated one afternoon in my private office, pondering deeply over some matters, and arranging various plans, when a lady was shown in. She was above the medium height, slender, graceful in her movements, and perfectly self-possessed in her manner.
I invited her to take a seat, and then observed that her features, although not what would be called handsome, were of a decidedly intellectual cast. Her eyes were very attractive, being dark blue, and filled with fire. She had a broad, honest face, which would cause one in distress instinctively to select her as a confidante, in whom to confide in time of sorrow, or from whom to seek consolation. She seemed possessed of the masculine attributes of firmness and decision, but to have brought all her faculties under complete control.
She had a broad, honest face, which would cause one in distress instinctively to select her as a confidante…
In a very pleasant tone, she introduced herself as Mrs. Kate Warne, stating that she was a widow, and that she had come to inquire whether I would employ her as a detective.
At this time female detectives were unheard of. I told her it was not the custom to employ women as detectives but asked her what she thought she could do.
She replied that she could go and worm out secrets in many places to which it was impossible for male detectives to gain access. She had evidently given the matter much study and gave many excellent reasons why she could be of service.
True, it was the first experiment of the sort that had ever been tried; but we live in a progressive age…
I finally became convinced that it would be a good idea to employ her. True, it was the first experiment of the sort that had ever been tried; but we live in a progressive age and in a progressive country. I therefore determined at least to try it, feeling that Mrs. Warne was a splendid subject with whom to begin.
I told her to call later that week. I entered into an agreement with her and soon after gave a case into her charge. She succeeded far beyond my utmost expectations, and I soon found her an invaluable acquisition to my force.
I told her I would consider the matter. I also told her to call the next day and inform her of my decision. The more I thought of it, the more convinced I became that the idea was a good one, and I determined to employ her. At the time appointed she called. I entered into an agreement with her, and soon after gave a case into her charge. She succeeded far beyond my utmost expectations, and I soon found her an invaluable acquisition to my force.
— ALLAN PINKERTON The Expressman and the Detective, 1874
Pinkerton’s early female detectives
Below is an excerpt from Allan Pinkerton’s book, The Murderer and the Fortune Teller, first published in 1877.
The employment of female detectives has been the subject of some adverse criticism by persons who think that women should not engage in such a dangerous calling. It has been claimed that the work is unwomanly; that it is only performed by abandoned women; and that no respectable woman who becomes a detective can remain virtuous. To these theories, which I regret to say are quite prevalent, I enter a positive denial. My experience of twenty years with lady operatives is worth something, and I have no hesitation in saying that the profession of a detective, for a lady possessing the requisite characteristics, is as useful and honorable employment as can be found in any walk of life.
…I created a female department in the agency, and made Mrs. Warne the superintendent thereof…
Previous to the early part of 1855, I had never regularly employed any female detectives; nor were women engaged in that capacity in any part of the Union. My first experience with them was due to Mrs. Kate Warne, an intelligent, brilliant, and accomplished lady. She offered her services to me in the early spring of that year, and, in spite of the novelty of her proposition, I determined to give her a trial. She soon showed such tact, readiness of resource, ability to read character, intuitive perception of motives, and rare discretion, that I created a female department in the agency, and made Mrs. Warne the superintendent thereof.
The work of my female detectives is generally light. Zeal and discretion are the principal requisites, though conscientious devotion to duty and rigid obedience to orders are also essential. They are expected to win the confidence of those from whom information is desired and to lose no opportunity of encouraging them to talk about themselves.
They are expected to win the confidence of those from whom information is desired and to lose no opportunity of encouraging them to talk about themselves.
With regard to the moral influence of their duties, I say boldly that it is in no respect different from that of any other position where women are thrown upon their own resources. It is an unfortunate fact in our social system, that no single woman or widow, dependent upon herself for support, can escape a loss of caste and position by working in the great field of business where she comes in competition and contact with men; but, aside from this general prejudice, there is nothing in the detective's duties to make her profession less respectable and honorable than there is in the duties of a lady cashier, book-keeper, copyist, or clerk. The detective's temptations are no greater than those of any of the foregoing who mingle with men in their daily business; while, on the other hand, the safeguards of their virtue are much more numerous, since all the detectives of my agency know that their conduct is under constant surveillance.
…great criminals are successful in hiding all traces of their guilt so effectually as to make their conviction impossible without the aid of the female detective…
There are instances of frequent occurrence where great criminals are successful in hiding all traces of their guilt so effectually as to make their conviction impossible without the aid of the female detective. Most of these men have wives or mistresses in whom they confide to a great extent. The testimony of these women, then, become the sole means by which to convict the criminals, and their testimony can be obtained in only one way—a female detective makes their acquaintance, wins their confidence, and draws out the story of the crime. Such an instance is given in The Expressman and the Detective, hitherto published.
I have in my employ several ladies of unquestionable purity of life, who are also among the most successful operators on my whole force. I take pleasure in offering this tribute to their ability, and their spotless characters.
— ALLAN PINKERTON The Murderer and the Fortune Teller, 1877