Guest Post: Edith Maxwell

Lady Detectives from the Past

Thanks for having me over, Mysteristas!

In my new Quaker Midwife Mysteries series, which officially debuts today with Delivering the Truth, Rose Carroll is a midwife who solves crimes. She’s an amateur sleuth, as in any good cozy mystery (I write two contemporary cozy series, too). Rose is perfect for the role, because she can hear secrets in women’s bedchambers and during their prenatal visits that the police detective would never have access to. She also has a curious mind and is rather forthright for the era.

I got to thinking about real-life female sleuths from a hundred or more years ago. So far I’ve only come up with two, but I’m still looking!

Kate Warne was hired by the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1856, and she became supervisor of their Female Detective Bureau. According to Wikipedia’s account based on the Pinkerton records, Warne walked into the Chicago office. Pinkerton “was surprised to learn Kate was not looking for clerical work, but was actually answering an advertisement for detectives he had placed in a Chicago newspaper. At the time, such a concept was almost unheard of. Pinkerton said, ‘It is not the custom to employ women detectives!’ Kate argued her point of view eloquently – pointing out that women could be ‘most useful in worming out secrets in many places which would be impossible for a male detective.’ A woman would be able to befriend the wives and girlfriends of suspected criminals and gain their confidence. Men become braggarts when they are around women who encourage them to boast. Kate also noted, ‘Women have an eye for detail and are excellent observers.’”

Warne apparently infKateWarneiltrated Baltimore society in 1861, using several aliases and a strong southern accent, to uncover the secessionists’ plot to murder President Lincoln. She did undercover spy work during the Civil War, and continued to work for Pinkerton after the war until she caught pneumonia in 1868 and died at the young age of 38. I found a great article about her, which includes a picture that might have been her in disguise during the war.

Miss Cora M StayersThen there’s Cora Stayers. Historical mystery author Jennifer Kinchloe wrote a post about her recently, including this wonderful ad for Stayers’ agency. Jennifer references research done by Paul Reda. Cora sounds like quite the gal. She hangs out with much younger men, including one former lover who shows up and kills the current one; she goes on stakeouts and car chases; and in one case takes a Mrs. Harris on a trip, gets her drunk, and steals letters Mrs. Harris was using to blackmail a Mrs. Campbell, who had hired Cora.

Women'sRegiment1914Cora also formed the “First Volunteer Women’s Cavalry Regiment” to fight in the border war with Mexico, exhorting the following (from Paul Reda’s post):

“Do you want to wait until all the men are killed to do your duty, sisters? A woman that would stand and let a man do all the fighting and suffering for his country is not a soldier. She belongs in the effete ranks of those who hurry abroad when the trouble starts. Pooh! She is not even worthy of the ballot.”

Reda includes the fact that in 1930 Cora lists herself on the Chicago census as 61 years old, a widow, and can read and write. She pays $40 a month in rent. She is still working, owns her own business, and declares her profession to be “Investigator.”

I don’t think my Quaker midwife will be getting up to either Kate’s or Cora’s kind of adventures, but it sure is fun to read about these adventurous women from a century or more ago.

Readers, which unconventional women from the past do you admire? Have you heard of any other real female sleuths from the late nineteenth century?


Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Her short story, “A Questionable Death,” is nominated for a 2016 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The tale features the 1888 setting and characters from her Quaker Midwife Mysteries series, which debuts with Delivering the Truth on April 8.

Maxwell is Vice-President of Sisters in Crime New England and Clerk of Amesbury Friends Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs with the other Wicked Cozy Authors. You can find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and at her web site,

Delivering the TruthCoverFor Quaker midwife Rose Carroll, life in Amesbury, Massachusetts, provides equal measures of joy and tribulation. She attends to the needs of mothers and newborns even as she mourns the recent death of her sister. Likewise, Rose enjoys the giddy feelings that come from being courted by a handsome doctor, but a suspicious fire and two murders leave her fearing for the well-being of her loved ones.

Driven by her desire for safety and justice, Rose Carroll begins asking questions related to the crimes. Consulting with her friends and neighbors―including the famous Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier―Rose draws on her strengths as a counselor and problem solver in trying to bring the perpetrators to light.



17 thoughts on “Guest Post: Edith Maxwell”

  1. Love your research and your midwife concept. I’ve always admired Grace O’Malley, the 16th century Irish pirate and clan chieftain. One of the stories goes that when she was a teenager, her father told her she couldn’t go sailing on his ship because her long hair would get caught up in things so she cut her hair off.


  2. (From Pittsburgh, looking out my window and snow and wondering where the heck spring went.) Great stories. Didn’t Pinkerton eventually change his tune, and decide women made great detectives? Maybe that was someone else, but if it was him I’m sure he made his decision in no small part because of Kate Warne.

    Congratulations, Edith and Happy Book Birthday!


  3. Welcome, Edith! I loved reading about these women–how inspiring! I’ve always admired my great grandmother who came to America from Slovenia alone at the young age of 14. Congrats on your new book, and on your Agatha nomination!


  4. Congratulations on your book birthday, Edith. Sounds like a fantastic book and it’s on my tbr.

    Strong women from the past have always fascinated me. And if they’re a bit on the rogue side, so much the better. Anne Bonny, the 16th century pirate was one of my favorites. Although only active for two years, she made her mark and we remember her today. Mary Edwards Walker who was a physician during the Civil War and who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for her service is another. Women detectives? I can’t think of any, but you know there had to be. Good post, very thought provoking.


  5. Very interesting, Edith! And best of luck with your book birthday! I am looking forward to checking out your books.

    There are some interesting discussions of women in mystery in Dilys Winn’s Murderess Ink, although maybe not exactly what you’re looking for. Ann Bonney is one of my favorites, too, and Kate, how interesting! My great-grandmother also came alone, although she was from Germany and older at 18. It’s hard to imagine how strong those women were.


  6. What a great post! I truly loved hearing about these women. They’re inspirational. Congrats on your new release. I can’t wait to read it!


  7. Hi Edith (and all)
    Here’s another one for you — Constance Amelie Kopp. Her story, (along with her sister’s stories) is documented in Amy Stewart’s
    “Girl Waits With Gun.” The title alone compelled me to read her story.


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