Women Private Eyes: Fiction and Reality
Though men have been the archetypal private investigators, fictional woman private investigators have existed way before even Sherlock Holmes was introduced in 1887. An author of British origin, Andrew Forrester Jr. introduced Mrs Gladden, the first female detective character in 1864. If one reads Mrs Gladden’s adventures and approach to crime, one would find that Holmes is perhaps a worthy successor to her methods of deduction.
The Early Era of Fictional Woman Detectives
Soon after Mrs Gladden came Mrs Paschal. She was a widow of forty and comes across as any other hardboiled male detective. She is proficient in the use of a Colt revolver. Her cases involved everything – murder, forgery, kidnapping and theft. She was the narrator of her own adventures and in them she claims that she has “certain advantages” over her male competitors because criminals and suspects do not think of her as a detective. Her methods of solving a crime involved a methodical approach, and were contrary to the criticism that a woman private investigator relies too heavily on intuition. Both, Gladden and Paschal display their skills of disguise.
Another contemporary American lady detective who was introduced in the year 1880 was Kate Goelet. Despite being young (she was only twenty three) and beautiful, she was adept at weaponry and could pull out six inch daggers from her sleeves with ease. The creator of Goelet also brought to life another female detective character Cad Metti, who showed that she was capable enough not only to take care of herself but also at knocking out an antagonist. She too comes across as a genius in disguise.
The Fiction and the Facts
Of the best known female investigators ever created however is Agatha Christie’s famous lady detective Miss Jane Marple, who makes her first appearance in 1928. Introduced as a spinster at the ripe age of sixty five, Miss Marple modestly admits many times that she is “not clever” and leads what is assumed to be a quiet life in the English countryside. She however does say that living a number of years has given her a rare insight into human nature. Although she always remains ladylike and genteel, her adventures show that she can uncover almost any crime because of her “rare insight”.
Though the above characters remain etched in the minds of book lovers, in real life women in the field of private investigation were unheard of till the year 1856, when Kate Warne earned the honour of being the first female investigator in the history of America. She was associated with the Pinkerton Detective Agency which was founded by Allen Pinkerton. Although she had applied for the job of a secretary, the founder of the firm was so impressed by her that he saw in her the potential of making a great female investigator. Indeed, Warne lived up to the expectations of Pinkerton and became adept at gathering information that none of her male counterparts were able to. She was even able to save the then presidential elect Abraham Lincoln from an assassination attempt.
The unfortunate part in the history of private investigation is that although there may have been many brilliant woman private investigators nobody has bothered to maintain their records and success stories. With days and times changing now, one hopes that history will not repeat itself and the work of female private investigators will be given as much credit as with their male counterparts.