The Lady Detectives

Early Female Eyes

“If it’s that delicate,… maybe you need a lady detective.”
— Philip Marlowe in The Little Sister (1949)

No business for a lady, indeed…

Before the parade of bimbo eyes from the pulp era and before the nineteen eighties tsunami of more realistic female eyes swamped us, there were the lady detectives.

A century earlier before Muller, Grafton, Paretsky, Cody et al rocked the world, Catherine Louisia Pirkis’ Miss Loveday Brooke, arguably the first female private detective (and almost certainly the first created by a woman) made her debut. And she was soon followed by several others of note. In fact, the late nineteenth centuryand early twentieth century saw the appearance of an overwhelming number of female literary detectives, from policewomen and crime-solving nurses to, yes, private detectives.

Here are some of the major players from long ago…

  • Miss Loveday Brooke
    Created by C.L. Pirkis
    Debut: 1883
    Arguably the first female private detective (and almost certainly the first created by a woman).
  • Miss Violet Strange
    Created by Anna Katherine Green
    Debut: 1895
    Nancy Drew’s grandmother? Often considered the first “girl detective.”
  • Dorcas Dene
    Created by George M. Sims
    Debut: 1897
  • Dora Myrl
    Created by M. McDonnell Bodkin
    Debut:  1900, 1900, Dora Myrl, The Lady Detective)
    A honest-to-goodness private detective, she rode bicycles, carried a gun and… flashed her ankles. And then she got married…
  • Miss Madelyn Mack
    Created by Hugh C. Weir
    Debut: 1914
  • Madame Storey
    Created by Hulbert Footner
    Debut: 1923

ALSO OF INTEREST

  • The Lady Is a Detective
    Olivia Rutigliano traces a Victorian literary trend: detective novels—but with women (Lapham’s Quarterly, December 2018)
Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.

 

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