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Who Was America’s First Female Detective?

Throughout history, women were always made to fit into gender roles that society felt were appropriate. Women have always been the healers and caretakers, but thanks to incredible women who broke barriers in various fields, women today have more career options. But did you know that the first American female detective found out about the assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln?

The first female detective in the United States, Kate Warne, went undercover as a “rich southern belle” to infiltrate a secessionist gathering. She was able to find out about the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln even before he became the President of the US.

Kate Warne Before the Civil War

There is not much information about Kate Warne during her early years. All we know is that she was born in Chemung County, New York, in the year 1833. She was widowed at the age of 23 and decided to work at Allan Pinkerton’s Detective Agency after seeing an ad in the newspaper. Pinkerton talked about Warne in his book, The Spy of the Rebellion.

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 or beautiful, were decidedly of an intellectual cast. Her face was honest, which would cause one in distress instinctly to select her as a confidante.

Allan Pinkerton, The Spy of the Rebellion

Warne visited the Chicago office and was interested in detective work. This surprised Pinkerton since he assumed that, as a woman, she would better fit in clerical work. The concept of a woman being a detective at the time was completely unheard of. Warne made her case by explaining how women could help worm out secrets that would’ve been impossible for male detectives to infiltrate.

A Woman would be able to befriend the wives and girlfriends of suspected criminals and gain their confidence. Men become braggarts when they are around women who encourage them to boast. Women also have an eye for detail and are excellent observers.

Kate Warne

Warne was able to convince Pinkerton and then became the first female detective. He put her to the test in 1858. She investigated the Adams Express Company embezzlement and was able to befriend the wife of the prime suspect, Mr. Maroney. Warne acquired enough evidence to convict Maroney, and $39,515 was returned. By 1860, Pinkerton placed Warne in charge of the Female Detective Bureau of his agency. (Source: True West Magazine)

The Baltimore Plot

Samuel H. Felton, the president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, hired Allan Pinkerton to investigate secessionist activity against a project their company had in Maryland. Pinkerton places several agents around the area to investigate the activity.

Pinkerton eventually found out that the secessionists were not only planning on sabotaging the Maryland project. Their plans included the then president-elect, Abraham Lincoln. Pinkerton received permission to continue the investigation of the assassination plot against Lincoln.

Warne was one of the five against assigned to the case. She was able to join in secessionist social gatherings undercover as a rich southern belle. She provided vital information on the assassination that led Pinkerton to believe the plot was imminent.

Just as Mr. Lincoln would be passing through the narrow vestibule of the Depot at Calvert St. Station, to enter his carriage. A row or fight was to be got up by some outsiders to quell which the few policemen at the Depot would rush out, thus leaving Mr. Lincoln entirely unprotected and at the mercy of a mob of Secessionists who were to surround him at that time. A small Steamer had been chartered and was lying in one of the Bays or little streams running into the Chesapeake Bay, to which the murderers were to flee and it was immediately to put off for Virginia.

Allan Pinkerton

Lincoln agreed that the threat was real but refused to cancel his plans. Train arrangements were made accordingly and allowed Lincoln to tend to his duties. Warne did not sleep while she was on the overnight trip. She made the arrangements for smuggling Lincoln into Washington DC unharmed. (Source: Central Intelligence Agency)

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