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America’s First Female Detective

“Very few of us are what we seem.” -Agatha Christie

Happy International Women’s Day from DEPCO! We hope you take today to recognize the trailblazing women who have shaped our world. Celebrate by learning more about one of these figures, or congratulating the women in your life on their powerful impact. In honor of this important day, this blog post will explore the life of Kate Warne, America’s first female detective. She was a true pioneer of her profession that not only broke down gendered barriers, but was key in stopping an assassination attempt on President Abraham Lincoln.

Warne applied for her detective position in 1856 with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Owner Allan Pinkerton thought she was seeking work as a secretary and tried to turn her away. Warne was a recent widow and knew she had valuable skills that could put her to work. She convinced Pinkerton of her value by highlighting the advantages to hiring a woman. She insisted she would be able to infiltrate places easily without gathering suspicion. She also believed she could easily befriend the wives and girlfriends of potential criminals, getting more crucial information than a man could. She reportedly told Pinkerton “Women have an eye for detail and are excellent observers,” Pinkerton eventually decided to take a chance on Warne.

She became a respected Pinkerton investigator very quickly. For instance, in 1859, she assisted in locating Nathan Maroney, who was thought to have stolen from the Montgomery, Alabama-based Adams Express Company. Warne adopted a Southern accent, made friends with Maroney’s wife, and, along with Pinkerton coworker John White, convinced the embezzler to give a complete confession.

Pinkerton appointed Warne as the director of his newly established Female Detective Bureau in 1860 after being extremely pleased with her work in Alabama. She served there for the rest of her life, managing the recruitment of woman detectives, including Hattie Lawton and Elizabeth H. Baker, both Union spies during the Civil War.

In February of 1861, Warne (and other Pinkerton colleagues) uncovered a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before his inauguration. In order to decipher the plot, Warne returned to her role as a Southern belle from Alabama. She attended gatherings under the guises Mrs. Cherry and Mrs. Barley while wearing a cockade—the symbol of secession—on her chest. She made friends with the wives and sisters of the men who wanted to kill Lincoln, which aided in the investigation.

The secessionists planned to kill Lincoln on his way to the inauguration. Warne and Pinkerton thwarted this by taking Lincoln on an overnight train that arrived in Baltimore at 3:30 am. To further secure the future president, Lincoln was instructed to act as an invalid, with Warne being his caregiver. Through their guise, no one knew Lincoln was on the train and he made it safely to Washington DC.

Warne spent much of the civil war posing as a southern belle and feeding confederate information to Pinkerton. Not much else is known about her due to the nature of her work. She eventually died in her mid 30s. Her tombstone claims her death was due to “congestion of the lungs.”

Kate Warne was an American hero. Find out more about her life and work in the video below!

Uncover Forensic Science with DEPCO!

Students thoroughly examine forensic science and many of its subfields, such as forensic pathology, toxicology, odontology, entomology, and psychology, in the Forensic Science CPU. Common forensic laboratory techniques are covered in class, including blood typing, fingerprint and handwriting analysis, hair and fiber microscopy, and blood spatter examination. Through an understandable simulation, students also learn about the value of DNA evidence and electrophoresis. Although students practice proper safety precautions during the procedures, these experiments use harmless synthetic chemicals to protect students while giving them a real-world, hands-on experience.

Click here to learn more about Forensic Science!

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