The first female detective in the US, a lead detective in the Pinkerton Detective Agency and an American law enforcement officer.
Kate Warne was born in Erin, Chemung County, New York, to a family of modest means. Growing up, she wanted to be an actress, but her family opposed the idea, so she became the next best thing – a spy. In 1856, 23 years old Warne, who presented herself as a widow, walked into the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Chicago, responding to an advertisement she saw in the local newspaper. At the time, female detectives were unheard of, and Allan Pinkerton, the head of the agency, was surprised to learn that she did not come to apply for the secretary position. Warne raised some reasonable arguments to get the job – women can go undercover, gain access to places men cannot, they have an eye for details, and they can befriend girlfriends and wives of the suspects. Though he was reluctant at first, she was able to convince him to hire her, the first female detective in his agency and the US.
For the next 12 years, she was involved in various high-profile investigations, serving as Pinkerton’s right hand. In 1858, she became a close friend of a wife of a prime suspect of Adams Express Company embezzlements, providing evidence for his convection. Three years later, she was a key figure in uncovering an assassination plot against the president-elect Abraham Lincoln. As part of her assignment, she escorted Lincoln on the train to Washington, DC, on the way to his inauguration. He posed as an invalid passenger, she went undercover as his sister and caregiver, staying up all night to make sure he remained undirected while passing through Baltimore, where the assassination meant to happen and bringing Lincoln safely to DC.
During the Civil War, she worked as a spy, posing as Pinkerton’s wife while collecting military intelligence for the Union Army. After the war, she continued to work undercover in numerous cases, as well as serving as Supervisor of Women Agents, coordinating the activities of other female detectives that joined the agency after her. She died at the age of 35 from pneumonia and was buried in the Pinkerton Family Plot alongside several other Pinkerton agents at Graceland Cemetery, Chicago.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She had several alias names – Kay Warne, Kay Waren, Kay Warren, Kate Warne, Kate Waren, Kate Warren, Kitty Warne, Kitty Waren, Kitty Warren, Kittie Waren, Kittie Warne, and Kittie Warren.
- Her heroic story of saving Lincoln from the assassination attempts is engraved on her coworker’s gravestone at Graceland Cemetery, Chicago.
- Her gravestone doesn’t say much about her, and her surname is misspelled – Warn.