Society in the 1800s made very clear distinctions between what was considered men’s work and what was women’s work, and policing and law enforcement were definitely men’s work. So when a young woman told Allan Pinkerton, the owner of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency that she was looking for a job in 1856, he told her they didn’t have any openings for secretaries. She replied that a newspaper ad she had seen said they were in need of a new detective, and she wanted the position.
Pinkerton tried to blow her off, telling her dismissively that the job was men’s work, but Kate Warne, at age 23, was already someone who would not take no for an answer. She argued that as a woman, she would have access to places a male detective would not. She pointed out that not only could another woman easily befriend the wives and girlfriends of suspects, but that the right woman knew how to get men bragging about their accomplishments, both legal and nefarious. Then she told Pinkerton that she was that woman!
While Pinkerton might not have been impressed with the idea of a woman detective when Warne started making her argument for why she deserved the job, by the time she was finished he had a whole new mindset. If this young woman could convince him, one of the most famous detectives in the country, of her value to his company, he realized that she could indeed convince suspects and their friends and lovers to open up to her as well. Pinkerton told her that he was willing to give it a try, and it didn’t take Kate Warne long to prove her worth.
In her very first case, Warne gained the confidence of a woman who was married to a man suspected of embezzling a large sum of money. In short order, she not only obtained the evidence that led to the arrest and conviction of the thief, she also learned where the money was hidden and was able to recover it.
Warne proved to be a brilliant detective, going to extremes to solve cases. Masquerading as a hotel maid, a vulnerable widow woman, a lady gambler, and even as a fortune teller, she had an uncanny ability to ferret out the truth in even the most difficult cases.
Her most famous case was when evidence of a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln was brought to light. Pretending to be a Southern woman sympathetic to the secessionist movement, Warne infiltrated those responsible for the plan and learned how they intended to carry it out while Lincoln was on a train passing through Baltimore on his way to Washington DC. The president-elect was convinced to ride on a different train, posing as an invalid, with Warne as his nurse. Later, with Lincoln safely at his destination, Warne talked about the long sleepless night escorting him to the nation’s capital. Her report gave Pinkerton the idea for the company’s motto, “We never sleep.”
That was not the only time Warne contributed to the Union’s success during the Civil War. Working with several other female detectives hired by Pinkerton, many times she infiltrated Southern circles and got to know many of the movers and shakers in the Confederate military and government. The information she then relayed to Pinkerton was often vital to the war effort.
The end of the Civil War did not mean an end to Kate Warne’s valuable work as a private detective. She went on to supervise other women hired by Pinkerton, and to work many important cases on her own. Who’s to say what more such a brilliant and courageous woman could have accomplished?
But unfortunately she died at a young age, just 34, when pneumonia felled her on January 28, 1868. Allan Pinkerton thought so highly of Kate Warne that he had her buried in his family’s plot in Chicago, saying in her eulogy, “She never let me down.”
Thought For The Day – Do you want to talk to the man in charge or the woman who knows what’s going on