Kate Warne – First Female Pinkerton

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. I hope everyone had a joyous Christmas and the happiest of New Years!

I recently read an article about 10 amazing women who paved the way for females in various branches of law enforcement. Some of the names I was familiar with, some not, but I learned new tidbits about even the ones I’d already heard of.  So I thought I’d share what I learned with you. But to do these stories justice, I’m going to spread them over a series of articles rather than try to squeeze them all into one post.

The first one, speaking chronologically, is also the one I was most familiar with, Kate Warne.

In 1856 Kate walked into the Pinkerton National Detective Agency office seeking a position. To Allan Pinkerton’s surprise, she was not looking for a clerical position, but that of a field agent. It took quite a bit of convincing, but the 23 year old widow was more than up to the task. She calmly described the many potential benefits a female detective could offer, such as an ability to manipulate targets into believing she was on their side and confiding in her in a way that men could never manage.

Despite his initial skepticism, Pinkerton never had reason to regret his decision to hire the indomitable Kate. She proved her worth on the first major case she worked on. She was assigned to the investigation of possible embezzlement of funds at the Adams Express Co. The primary suspect was a Mr. Maroney. Kate immediately befriended Mrs. Maroney. She gained the woman’s confidence so much that not only did she learn the information she need to prove Mr. Maroney’s guilt but she managed to find and recover almost 80 percent of the money that had been stolen.

Within four years of hiring her, Pinkerton was convinced that there would be immeasurable value to him to have more female operatives in his organization. So in 1960 he opened a Female Detective Bureau and put Kate in charge.

Of course this didn’t put an end to Kate’s field work. At one point Pinkerton assigned five agents, Kate among them, to investigate secessionist threats against the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. Based on their field reports Pinkerton became convinced that there was an assassination plot against then President-elect Lincoln to take place during his trip to Washington DC for his inauguration. It was Kate who confirmed that not only did this plot exist, but she learned the specific time and location where it was to take place. She also played a key role in the secret alternate travel arrangements that foiled the assassins’ plans.

The start of the Civil War saw Kate’s role change from that of investigator to that of spy while she continued to serve as Superintendent of Female Detectives. Using over a dozen assumed names and her spot-on southern belle impersonation she worked both down south and in the north, successfully gathering needed intelligence.

After the end of the war, Kate continued on her course as a valuable senior member of the Pinkerton team. There is no telling how far she would have gone, but alas, while the ‘bad guys’ could not best her, her health did. In January of 1868, still in her mid 30s, Kate contracted a lung infection and died.

In his book The Spy of the Rebellion, Pinkerton wrote of Kate Warne  “Of rather a commanding person, with clear-cut, expressive features, and with an ease of manner that was quite captivating at times, she was calculated to make a favorable impression at once. She was a brilliant conversationalist when so disposed, and could be quite vivacious, but she also understood that rarer quality… the art of being silent.”

There you have it, a very brief sketch of the trailblazing adventures of this brave and adventurous woman. What struck you most about her? If you’d already heard of her, did you learn anything new, or do you have more to add to her story?

Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in a drawing for winner’s choice of any book from my backlist.

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.

33 thoughts on “Kate Warne – First Female Pinkerton”

  1. A very courageous woman. Thanks for sharing her story. I didn’t realize they had women working as field agents at Pinkerton. I’m looking forward to reading your other posts about them.

  2. What a woman she was! She foraged a path for woman in law enforcement! What an accomplishment that was! Great blog, I can’t wait to see the others! Happy New Year!

  3. Love reading tidbits like this. I have not heard of Kate, or of women working in such a dangerous field at that point of time. A true trailblazer for women. looking forward to ‘the rest of the stories’.

  4. This is so cool. Thank you for sharing. I love the Pinkerton’s and look forward to your other articles of other women.

  5. I love these stories and look forward to the rest of your posts. I had never really heard of Kate before. What strikes me about so many of these women is their youth and bravery and adventuresome nature, to go into a field that is completely new to women.

  6. I didn’t know about her. Thank you. I was impressed how she went after the job she wanted.
    Happy New Year!

  7. I had heard of Kate before, but hadn’t remembered or realized that she had died so young. It is impressive that she was self-assured enough and convincing enough to talk Pinkerton into hiring her and giving her important cases. Women’s strengths and abilities have long gone un- appreciated and ignored. Kate helped change that for Pinkerton and at least for a short while proved how valuable she was and women could be.

  8. This was very intetesting sounds like she was a pistol lol. I love reading about how women do jobs that wasn’t initially made for them. I like when women prove men wrong.

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  9. Winnie, Thanks, for your blog on those awesome Pinkerton ladies. It took a lot for them to do their jobs & a strong will to get their man or woman. I have enjoyed reading your books for years. Thanks, for a chance to win one.

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