When the slender, brown-haired twenty-three-year-old woman walked into the Pinkerton Detective Agency and inquired about the job advertised in the Chicago newspaper, Allan Pinkerton turned her down. The first detective agency in the United States did not require a clerk, the woman was told. No, she responded, she wasn’t a clerk. She was an applicant for a detective position.
"It is not the custom to employ women detectives!" The taciturn Pinkerton scoffed at the idea. Oh really?
The woman’s name was Kate Warne. Like Pinkerton, she was not one to be swayed. Women, she told him, could be "most useful in worming out secrets in many places which would be impossible for a male detective" (T. Webster…). She
pointed out how a woman would have a better chance at befriending the female
counterparts of the criminal element, or even of female criminals. Allan
Pinkerton was a reasonable man, and he was also open to new ideas. He liked
what he saw in Kate Warne: “…a commanding person, with clear cut, expressive
features ... graceful in her movements and self-possessed. Her features … of an
intellectual cast ... her face was honest, which would cause one in distress
instinctly [sic] to select her as a confidante” (Pinkerton). He hired this brown-haired commanding person;
Kate Warne became the first female detective. The year was 1856.
|Kate Warne is seen here, standing next to the post.|
Kate Warne’s promises to Allan Pinkerton came true in 1858 when she worked her first case, becoming the confidante to the wife of a prime suspect in an embezzlement scam. Using Warne’s information gleaned in her undercover work, more than half of the embezzled money was recovered and the embezzler was caught and convicted. Kate was promoted to Superintendent of Pinkerton’s new Female Detective Bureau.
Kate played a role in many cases, to include the discovery and diversion of an intricate plot to assassinate president-elect
Abraham Lincoln. In 1861, “Warne
was key in the foiled Baltimore assassination plot – not only did she help
uncover its details, but she also carried out most of the arrangements to
smuggle Lincoln into Washington, D.C. She couriered secret information and set
up meetings” (Cuthbert).
|Kate Warne, First Lady of|
The Pinkertons became a covert war intelligence-gathering bureau during the American Civil War and Kate was able to infiltrate many situations her male counterparts were not privy: social circles, special events, flirting with males who held certain secrets, listening to the secrets certain females whispered. She had an excellent memory, a keen eye for detail, and knew just how and when to ask questions. With a plethora of aliases and that many accents, Kate wooed and charmed, interviewed and interrogated her way through house parties and battlefields, gathering information. There is also some information that she may have disguised herself as a young male Union soldier (LET).
Kate continued her work after the war. She worked murders, embezzlement cases, murder for hire plots, and Allan Pinkerton said of her, “She has never let me down” (Rinaldi). She was one of two people and the only female he acknowledged in his memoirs. She died of complications from pneumonia in 1868, Allan at her side, and she is buried in the Pinkerton Family Plot.
In 1891 women were allowed to serve on the police force. In 1910 women were allowed to be police officers. Thirty-five years prior, a woman named Kate Warne preceded them all as a detective, spy, undercover agent, and investigator. She is an important part of history for women, criminal justice, and United States history.
Cuthbert, Norma Barrett, ed. (1949). Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot 1861 From Pinkerton records and related papers (PDF). Huntington Library. OL 16180232M. Retrieved 2019-10-22.
LET Staff (2017-03-28). Female Undercover Operative Way Before Her Time. Law Enforcement Today. https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/female-undercover-operative-way-time/
Pinkerton, Allan (1883). The Spy of the Rebellion. G.W. Carleton & Company. p. 75.
"Timothy Webster & Kate Warne". Pinkerton Government Services. 2006-10-15. Archived from the original on 2006-10-15. Retrieved 2019-10-22.