Edited Transcripts

Lady Detectives! with Katie Canningham

Katie Canningham: Thank you for coming to my little presentation! and of course feel free to comment and ask questions as I go!
Katie Canningham: Victorian Lady Detectives: Fact & Fiction
Katie Canningham: Good morning/afternoon/day/evening/night! And welcome to “Victorian Lady Detectives: Fact and Fiction!”
Katie Canningham: Today, IRL, reading about and watching tv shows and movies with Victorian Lady Detectives are arguably quite popular. Just a couple of examples – The Netflix movie “Enola Holmes” netted its star an apparently record-setting 10 million dollars US in profit, and did well enough that a sequel was made.
Katie Canningham: Then there’s the tv series “Miss Scarlet and the Duke,” and–
Katie Canningham: A too-short-lived series, The Alienist, co-starred Dakota Fanning as an employee of the NYPD who later opened her own detective agency. And if you do a search in amazon.com, you can find scads of cozy mysteries set in Victorian times with heroic ladies stumbling across bodies and solving crimes. These are works written in our time–
Katie Canningham: Books, like “A Study in Scarlet Women” by Sherry Thomas, the first in the Lady Sherlock series of detective books. Or cozy mysteries like “Maids of Misfortune (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery Book 1)” by M Louisa Locke. So many books, so little time!
Katie Canningham: (It is argued that “Victorian era” does not include the United States, as the US was not, of course, subject to the Queen. But they did exist during those years, so for our purposes today, the Victorian era will include the US.)
Katie Canningham: So back in Victorian times? The 1800s? Would anyone back then want to read about lady detectives?
Katie Canningham: Strong female protagonists who would discard their bustles without a second thought in order to squeeze through a trapdoor and follow the foul miscreant who had stolen someone’s jewelry? But of course! First, let us go back to 1864….
Katie Canningham: The US is still embroiled in its civil war. Queen Victoria is slowly re-entering public life after retreating into deep mourning for Albert. Nancy Drew is still 66 years away and PD James’ famous detective novel,
Katie Canningham: “A Most Unsuitable Job for a Woman” is a bit over 100 years away. In 1864, there are respectable women “in service,” teaching, even working in factories – but working as detectives? It was unusual, but yes. In both fact and fiction.
Katie Canningham: In 1864, two books appeared on the scene. “Revelations of a Lady Detective” by William Stephens Hayward and “The Female Detective” by Andrew Forrester (a pseudonym for James Redding Ware).
Katie Canningham: Both books, collections of adventures of their titular characters, sold well enough to make their authors a tidy profit. Today both can be found on Google books, and “The Female Detective” is available on Amazon (why not “Revelations of a Lady Detective?” Who knows?).
Wildstar Beaumont wonders whether Pinkerton had female detectives
Katie Canningham: yes! and one particularly heroic one, as we will see!
Katie Canningham: Temporarily detouring back to the 21st century— When the British Library hosted an exhibit – “Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction” – in 2013, they republished the two books.
Katie Canningham: Information about the exhibit can still be found at the British library’s website (https://www.bl.uk/).
Katie Canningham: Their website is awesome, by the way, totally chock-a-block with information and wondrous things to see!
Katie Canningham: As Sara Ledge wrote about “Revelations of a Lady Detective” in her article, “Ms Private Eye” in The Weekly Standard, 2 December 2013, “This isn’t a book about sex, but it is a book that blows gender conventions out of the water.”
Katie Canningham: Our heroine is not afraid to discard that bustle when necessary and faces danger to nab criminals!
Katie Canningham: In both books, a respectable widow in somewhat desperate need of income turned to detective work, and ended up being successful at it.
Katie Canningham: Although it was not until decades later, in the 1890s, that larger numbers of lady-detective stories would be published, these two books are considered to be pioneering works. And it is possible they helped pave the way for real-life young ladies to turn to detective work, as well. Now we turn from fiction to fact…
Katie Canningham: And thank goodness that they had an alternative to – ahem – forming temporary romantic liasons for money
Katie Canningham: Between 1837 and 1901 huge strides in British society were made – the middle class arose and became an established part of British society, and there were women who worked outside the home
Katie Canningham: sometimes (often?) not by choice: Servants, teachers, ladies’ companions, governesses… and even factory workers. But detectives? Or investigating for detective agencies? Yes!
Katie Canningham: If I’m able to get pictures working, there shold be displayed – now? – a sample advertisement from a London periodical, “The Sporting Times,” from April 27, 1895. Such advertisements in newspapers were not uncommon.
Katie Canningham: Very often, these ads would specify they had women on staff, and hiring them was definitely usual. (not unusual)
Katie Canningham: By the 1890s, there were women working for detective agencies, especially for tailing suspects and gathering information.
Katie Canningham: An example of private detective agencies advertising specifically that they had female detectives on staff, is the ad for Slater’s Detectives on 27 April 1895 in The Sporting Times of London.
Katie Canningham: These female detectives took advantage of the fact that women – especially women dressed as servants – were overlooked or ignored.
Katie Canningham: Even very suspicious men glancing around would disregard them. Such disinterest was, in general, not a good thing, but for detective work, it turned a – societal insult? being overlooked – into an asset
Katie Canningham: Tailing suspicious – and generally suspecting – men or sneaking into places they probably shouldn’t be, was often easier as a result.
Katie Canningham: Women looked much less threatening, and often were able to get close enough to eavesdrop, where a man might have been noticed and avoided, or accosted.
Katie Canningham: Female detectives often were able to tease out information that their male counterparts had more difficulty getting, or couldn’t get.
Katie Canningham: Servants were more open to gossiping with “fellow servants.” People in general were prone to open up more about their troubles to a sympathetic-looking lady.
Katie Canningham: Oh my, the master of the house has been bringing round his actress friends while the mistress is out? You don’t say! Oh of course I won’t say a word about it!
Katie Canningham: Oh there there, yes, I know, I think my husband may be embezzling from his employers too, getting so secretive, like!…. yes, just like that… your husband does that too? You don’t say! Oh no, of course I won’t breathe a word about it!
Katie Canningham: “Wait, he hides the money where????”
Katie Canningham: I also had an awesome example where a policeman’s wife was able to pose as members of a group the police were trying to infiltrate and she was even written about it in a London newspaper
Katie Canningham: She was, forgive please my language – bloody awesome!
Katie Canningham: The legend is that she walked into the office of Allen Pinkerton, founder and head of the Pinterton Agency, and demanded that he hire her as a detective.
Katie Canningham: And he did hire her.
Katie Canningham: It was whispered then and still speculated today that he hired her because she was his mistress. Maybe, maybe not. But she did prove herself as a very capable detective in her own right.
Katie Canningham: What is known for sure is that she was in the agency from 1856 to 1861. She is most famous for foiling a plot to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore, Maryland in 1861.
Katie Canningham: Like her counterparts in England, she was able to tease out information related to the plot.
Katie Canningham: As part of a team that had been sent to discover whether the threat was real and who was involved, she not only tracked the conspirators, but used a persona as a rich Southern lady to attend various functions and flirt her way to the information she needed.
Katie Canningham: Ladies gossiped with her, gentlemen bragged.
Katie Canningham: She listened in on supposedly private conversations
Katie Canningham: After that major success, she engaged in espionage for the Union through the war and continued with the Pinkerton Agency for two years after the war.
Katie Canningham: Apparently there is a movie in the works, about her life, with Emily Blunt playing the part of Kate Warne, though it may be languishing in “production purgatory.”
Katie Canningham: Apparently there is a movie in the works, about her life, with Emily Blunt playing the part of Kate Warne, though it may be languishing in “production purgatory.” Katie Canningham: So in Fact and in Fiction, ladies have been working for detectives, and doing detective work, as far back as mid-Victorian times. And the adventure of course continues!
Katie Canningham: Whether or not it is “A Most Unsuitable Job for a Woman!”
Katie Canningham: The Legal Stuff:
Katie Canningham: U.S. Copyright disclaimer: under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976; Allowance is made for “fair use,” for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. All rights and crdit go to the rightful owners of images & exceprts use for this presentation.
Katie Canningham: That’s all I have – any questions or comments? or sly humour

Peter from New York: Bravo!!!!!!
Liz Wilner: 😀 that’s cute!
Peter from New York: awwwww
Katie Canningham curtsies
Peter from New York: so cute
Symeon Siamendes: What sort of work did they do in practice most of the time – things like divorce cases?
Oriella Charik claps
Liz Wilner: did Kate Warne carry any weapons as a Pinkerton?
Oriella Charik: Most informative
Katie Canningham: I found that picture on the I Can Haz Cheesburger website
Symeon Siamendes: finding out if a spouse was unfaithful etc
Katie Canningham: yes, I believe she had a small-caliber pistol.
Katie Canningham: I’m not sure, however.
Liz Wilner: oo…a purse pistol…excellent
Katie Canningham: I’d be willing to bet she’d had firearms training!
Katie Canningham: Many thanks Wildstar!
Liz Wilner: with the Pinkertons…surely!
Liz Wilner: and knife training too I’d bet
Liz Wilner: very well done, Katie!
Katie Canningham: many thanks!
Wildstar Beaumont: it was petty good!
Peter from New York: What a great talk
Katie Canningham: many thanks!
Peter from New York: I have to jet fo RL
Peter from New York: see again soon
Liz Wilner: tc Peter 🙂
Katie Canningham: and I do sincerely thank y’all for coming!
Symeon Siamendes: Yes interesting subject
Liz Wilner: I shall scold the Baron for missing this! 😉
Wildstar Beaumont: great job, Katie
Katie Canningham: I know there was no notice.
Katie Canningham: many thanks!
Wildstar Beaumont: we will all scold the Baron ! 😉
Liz Wilner: lol
Katie Canningham: hehe!
Liz Wilner: well…we made it happen…so all ends well 🙂
Wildstar Beaumont: yes
Wildstar Beaumont: I am glad we did it today
Liz Wilner: ty Katie!
Oriella Charik: Thank you. I am hopeless at mysteries – I never guess whodunit
Katie Canningham: most welcome! and thankee!
Katie Canningham: and have a wonderful day!
Liz Wilner: you as well 🙂
Wildstar Beaumont: good night everyone !
Katie Canningham: I love the tricky mysteries!
Katie Canningham: good night!
OldeSoul Eldemar: thank you Katie – and yes, it is ready to go to CeeJay
Katie Canningham: welkies and thank you!!


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