Kate Warne (c. 1830 - 1868) was the first known female detective in America. Also known as Angie Warren, Mrs. Barley, Mrs. Cherry, she worked for famed detective Allan Pinkerton from 1856 until her death in 1868. She is buried in Pinkerton's employee lot in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, where the firm was based (under the name of Angie M. Warren). Most of the information about her life comes from Pinkerton's writings about her, obituaries, and a few scattered reports. Almost all of Pinkerton's files were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Unfortunately, no photos of Kate exist, but Pinkerton describes her as being a "commanding person, with clear cut, expressive features." (The Spy of the Rebellion) In his Criminal Reminiscences and Detective Sketches, he elaborates further, saying how she was "a slender, brown-haired woman, graceful in her movements and self-possessed. Her features, although not what could be called handsome, were decidedly of an intellectual cast... her face was honest, which would cause one in distress instinctly [sic] to select her as a confidante."
Details of Kate's early life are sparse, but she was born around 1830 in the tiny town of Erin in Chemung County, New York. Notably there was a single Warn[e] family living in Erin in the 1830 census - Israel and Elizabeth (nee Hurlbut). They had a little girl by 1830, but her name is unknown. The family had moved to Illinois by 1856, when the couple's oldest son, Allan, married a woman there. Whether this was Kate's biological family or not is uncertain. Pinkerton describes Kate as being a widow when she started working for him, but this could have just been a ruse to garner societal acceptance. Perhaps it was just coincidence that Kate started working for Pinkerton the same year Allan married.
During Kate's tenure at Pinkerton's, she worked on several important cases including the Adams Express Company embezzlement case and President-elect Lincoln's Midnight Ride. She was also instrumental in working on the Wild Rose spy case. Additionally, she oversaw Pinkerton's women's department and managed his D.C. office during the Civil War.
Back in Chicago, Kate died in late January 1868 after an extended illness. Pinkerton published several pieces featuring Kate's adventures working for him, including The Spy of the Rebellion and The Expressman and the Detective. He obviously thought highly of her and may have even had an affair with her. He refutes the claim in a letter to his son, written years after Kate's death.
Kate paved the way for Pinkerton to hire other women detectives. Her obituary was published across the country and even in England and Scotland. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda J. Gage and Ida H. Harper included a reference to her in their seminal work, History of Woman Suffrage. Kate was a trailblazer who deserves to be remembered and to inspire others today. At a time when most women were considered to be little more (or less) than property of their husbands, Kate broke barriers and pushed boundaries.