Kate Warne

an HMS American Cultures collaborative production

Kate Warne was the first female detective in the United States. She demanded an interview for a position at Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1856, at age twenty six, but she didn't want an ordinary, "normal" job for a woman. She wanted to be a detective, but Allan Pinkerton wasn't so sure this was a good idea. After some persuasion, Pinkerton hired her.
external image pinkertoneye.jpgNot much is known about her before she became employed at the detective agency. Born in New York, she became a widow not long after she was married and she was desperate for work.
When she arrived for her interview, Pinkerton noted that he "was surprised to learn Kate was not looking for clerical work, but was actually answering an advertisement for detectives he had placed in a Chicago newspaper. At the time, such a concept was almost unheard of. Pinkerton said 'It is not the custom to employ women detectives!' Kate argued her point of view eloquently - pointing out that women could be 'most useful in worming out secrets in many places which would be impossible for a male detective. 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.'" Kate also noted, "Women have an eye for detail and are excellent observers."

Pre-Civil War
Her first case was in 1858, when a man by the name of Mr. Maroney was suspected of stealing fifty thousand dollars from the Adam's Express Company. After becoming close friends with Mr. Maroney's wife, Kate Warne was able to prove him guilty. Returning thirty thousand five hundred fifteen dollars of the fifty thousand stolen and putting Mr. Maroney behind bars for ten years in Alabama, is very impressive for her first case.
She was also involved in incriminating sessionisists in Maryland in 1861 for destroying railroads. As Pinkerton received more information, he learned that there was a plot to assassinate the new president elect, Abraham Lincoln. So Pinkerton put Kate Warne on the case on February 3, 1861, to find out if there really was an assassination plot. Kate found not only that there was a plan to kill Lincoln but also the exact time and place where the plan was to be carried out. The plan she discovered was “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.”
Once again, Pinkerton had a job for her, after confirming that there was a plan through various other sources, and finally convincing Lincoln of the danger he might be exposed to, Kate Warne, Allan Pinkerton and Ward Hill Lamon met him at the train station and Kate pretended to be his sister (Lincoln was disguised). After safely making it to Washington, D.C. it is said that Kate Warne did not sleep at anytime when she was protecting Lincoln. The Pinkerton Detective Agency earned that slogan “we never sleep” after Kate Warne’s legendary train ride with Lincoln to his inauguration. She most definitely was the mastermind behind getting Lincoln to safety, she found out the plot itself and planned Lincoln’s avoidance of the assassins, which obviously worked.

Civil War Time
During the Civil War, Pinkerton and his detectives became a major intelligence agency for the Union so Kate Warne became a spy along with many other detectives. After Kate Warne helped to provide information about Lincoln’s possible assassination plot, Pinkerton made her his Female Superintendent of Detectives. Pinkerton wrote to Lincoln shortly after the Civil War started, donating his detective agency to be an intelligence gathering center, but before Lincoln could reply, General McClellan requested that Pinkerton bring his best detectives to spy on the Confederacy, so he brought Warne, Timothy Webster and later George Bangs to be intelligence gatherers. Pinkerton moved his agency to Cleveland, Ohio to follow the Union troops out west Being his FSD, she traveled with him many times, sometimes posing as husband and wife. Kate Warne was a particularly good spy because she could enter any social setting without many problems and she easily got information out of the people she associated with.

Post Civil War

Kate worked on many tough cases after the war, but her two most known were murder cases. One was a combined bank robbery and murder in Mississippi, since Pinkerton didn’t have enough evidence to put his main suspect in jail, Kate became good friends with his wife and the wife ended up confessing where her husband hid the money. The other one was when a man thought his sister and another man were trying to poison him, Kate disguised herself as a fortune teller and exposed the murderer. Pinkerton named Kate as one of his best five detectives and specially thanked her in his memoir. Pinkerton created a Female Detective Bureau and gave her the title of Supervisor of Women Agents. Unfortunately, Kate died soon after the end of the Civil War. She died of pneumonia on January 28, 1868 with Pinkerton beside her. She was buried in his family’s plot in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery at the age of thirty eight. Allan Pinkerton was later buried beside her.


"Kate Warne." Wikipedia. 18 May 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Warne >.

Maikell-Thomas, Barbara. "Kate Warner America's First Female Private Eye." SPYTek." 20 May 2009 <http://www.pimall.com/NAIS/pivintage/katewarne.html>.

Picture Credit:

Public Domain on <http://www.pimall.com/NAIS/pivintage/katewarne.html>.