Kate Warne: America’s First Official Female Spy

Kayla Mahoney - Tour Guide

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It’s 1861. A plot has been uncovered to assassinate everyone’s favorite top-hatted president, Abraham Lincoln. Who you gonna call?

No, no the Ghostbusters. The answer, my friends, is Kate Warne; trailblazer, spy, and all around Badass Bitch.

Of All the Detective Agencies in All the World, She Walked into This One

Where’s Warne?

Not much is known about Kate Warne, which is probably a good thing since part of being a great spy is keeping your real identity a secret. But we do know this, in 1856 a 23-year-old, widowed Kate Warne walked into the Pinkerton Detective Agency and asked for a job.1

Allan Pinkerton, who had been running the successful Chicago-based detective agency since 1850, took one look at Warne, noticed that she was a lady, and said, “Yes, sure, you’ll be a great secretary.”

But a life full of fetching coffee and avoiding awkward interactions with her male coworkers was not what Warne wanted. She wanted to be a spy.

So Warne attempted to convince her boss of the many benefits of employing a lady spy. Among them: the ability to infiltrate and befriend the wives and girlfriends of their targets and the fact that no one would suspect her of being a spy since she had a vagina. Pinkerton either saw the value in Warne’s proposition or was sick of her pestering him, because he said yes.

And that decision saved lives.

The Good Morning Baltimore Plot

Probably this guy without a beard…

For as long as there have been presidents, there have been plots to kill presidents. And the president in Warne’s time, Abraham Lincoln, was not immune to the tradition.

When rumors of a planned assassination against Lincoln reached Pinkerton’s perked ears, he sent his best spy, Warne, to Baltimore to figure out the details. Born with superior acting and accent chops, Warne was able to successfully impersonate a Southerner and get all the hot goss’ from the southern ladies whose husbands were suspects.

Through her sleuthing, Warne discovered that the assassination attempt was to take place in Baltimore when President Lincoln passed through on the train to his inauguration in Washington D.C. Ever the overachiever, Warne was not content to just pass on the intel and bounce. She wanted to finish what her A+ detective work had started.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Penny for your thoughts about Lincoln?

Now, you may or may not remember this from your high school history class, but Abraham Lincoln was super tall. So tall, in fact, that he basically looked like a cartoon character, what with his enormous body and easily recognizable stove-top hat.

Warne knew she had to disguise big ole Abe if there was any hope of smuggling him on the train unnoticed, so she grabbed a beanie-like hat, a shawl, and told Lincoln to play the part of her sick brother.2

Warne convinced the train conductor to board her and her “brother” away from the other patrons so they wouldn’t infect the other passengers. The conductor agreed, and Lincoln and Warne made it all the way to the inauguration staying sexy and not getting murdered.

Team No Sleep

Britannica
The tagline of Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

The entire train ride to D.C., Kate Warne didn’t sleep a wink as she kept vigilant watch over the future man on the penny. When she got back to Chicago, Warne took the story of her badassery and made it her personal brand, changing the slogan of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to “We Never Sleep.”

Pinkerton quickly promoted Warne and appointed her “Female Superintendent of Detectives “so she could inspire the next generation of female spies. Throughout her career, Warne was able to save countless lives and thousands of dollars using her spy skills and disguises. She died at the age of 35 of a “congestion of the lungs.”

Or was it murder!?

No, it was probably congestion of the lungs.

Thanks to Kate Warne, America’s first official female spy, President Abraham Lincoln was saved. Well, until 1865 when he was shot in a theater. But that’s a different story…

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Notes & Gossip 📌

  1. Blakemore, E. (March 3, 2017). Time
  2. Eddy, C. (May 21st, 2015). Gizmodo

Scholarly Shout-outs 🌟

  • Blakemore, E. (2017, March 3rd). The Woman Who Helped Stop an Early Attempt on Abraham Lincoln's Life. http://time.com/4689230/first-female-detective/
  • Eddy, C. (2015, May 21st). How America's First Female Detective Helped Foil An Assassination Plot. https://gizmodo.com/how-americas-first-female-detective-helped-foil-an-assa-1705958938

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