Working Undercover is No Job for a Lady

0 comments Posted on September 15, 2014

Margaret Brownleyby Margaret Brownley

After reading about Kate Warne, the first known female detective, I just knew I had to write about the intriguing Pinkerton women who bucked convention and went where angels—and most men—feared to tread.  The result is Petticoat Detective, book one in my Undercover Ladies series.

Kate worked for the Pinkerton National Detective agency from 1856 to her death in 1868. Since women were not allowed to join the police department until 1890, the firm’s founder Allan Pinkerton was well ahead of his time in hiring her.  Originally, he thought she was applying for a secretary job, but she convinced him otherwise.  What a conversation that must have been!

Quick to see the advantage of female detectives, he put her in charge of the Pinkerton Female Detective Bureau, formed in 1860 to ‘worm out secrets’ by means unavailable to male detectives.  She also managed the Pinkerton Washington department during the war.

Little is known about Kate’s early life. She was supposedly a widow when Allan Pinkerton hired her, which may or may not be true.   Her job was often to elicit sympathy and therefore confessions from the criminal element, and widowhood might have been part of her charade.

Petticoat Detective coverNo known photos exist of her, but Allan described her as a “brown-haired woman, graceful of movement and self-possessed.”

Kate Saves Lincoln

A master of disguise, Kate could change her accent as readily as she could change her appearance, and her “Southern Belle” disguise helped save President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s life.

After verifying a plot to assassinate him, Kate wrapped Lincoln in a shawl and passed him off as her invalid brother, thus assuring his safety as he traveled by train to Washington D.C.  Kate never slept the whole time Lincoln was in her charge. This may or may not have been the inspiration behind the Pinkerton logo: We never sleep.

Little is known about those early days.  Unfortunately, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out Pinkerton records. What is known is that Kate was an excellent detective and her trailblazing efforts helped the Pinkerton Detective Agency rise to fame.

About Margaret

Thrills, mystery, suspense, romance: Margaret penned it all. Nothing wrong with this—except Margaret happened to be writing for the church newsletter at the time. After making the church picnic read like a Grisham novel, her former pastor took her aside and said, “Maybe God’s calling you to write fiction.” Margaret wasn’t sure that was true, but she wasn’t about to take chances. She’s now a New York Times bestselling author with more than 30 novels to her credit and a former Romance Writers of American finalist.  Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English.  Just don’t ask her to diagram a sentence.


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