3 Amazing Female Detectives You’ve Never Heard Of

Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, Veronica Mars, Lis Salander, Jessica Fletcher, Dana Scully, Clarice Starling . . . Female detectives are relatively easy to find in fiction. There’s even a brand-new Nancy Drew movie out.

But for all their growing prevalence on screen and in literature, women detectives are hard to find in history books. So we searched the historical papers on Newspapers.com to bring you the amazing stories of 3 real-life female detectives you’ve probably never heard of.

Maud West

Maude WestMaude West Fri, Mar 3, 1922 – Page 17 · The Charlotte News (Charlotte, North Carolina) · Newspapers.com


~Who was she?~

Maud West was a well-known private detective in London in the early decades of the 20th century. Reputed to be London’s only female detective, West opened her agency in 1905 and hired both male and female detectives. For the next 30 years, she investigated a host of crimes, from blackmail and theft, to cheating spouses and even German spies. She claimed to have investigated cases around the world, including in Paris, the South of France, Monte Carlo, Nairobi, and New York.

Famous as a master of disguise, West went undercover as a servant, society woman, nurse, secretary, waitress, fortune teller, and more. She excelled at disguising herself as a man and impersonated everyone from a lowly sailor to a titled Englishman. West reportedly said that she frequently took on male disguises because “A woman […] cannot stand about like a man may.”

~Notable Case~

In an article that ran in multiple newspapers in 1926, West recounted a case in which a young American woman hired West to investigate her husband. West, using various disguises, trailed him on a long journey that stretched from Paris, to Dover, to London, and then all the way to New York. In New York, she discovered that the “strange American’s eccentricity had turned to medical surgery,” and he had in fact traveled to New York to participate in an illegal human dissection.

~Read more about Maud West in the newspaper~

Isabella Goodwin

Isabella GoodwinIsabella Goodwin Mon, Mar 4, 1912 – Page 4 · Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York) · Newspapers.com


~Who was she?~

Isabella Goodwin was New York’s first woman police detective. The widow of a policeman with four children to raise, Goodwin was hired as a police matron in 1896. Sometime around 1910, Goodwin was transferred to the detective bureau to assist in investigations, though there is newspaper evidence that she was already helping with investigations by 1902.

In the detective bureau, Goodwin primarily focused on investigating charlatans and swindlers, including fortune tellers, healers, spiritualists, mediums, and astrologers, sometimes going undercover. After proving instrumental in solving a robbery case in 1912, Goodwin was promoted to detective sergeant, first grade, and became the first woman in the New York police department to hold this position. She later also served as assistant to the Special Deputy Commissioner in charge of the Women’s Precinct.

Goodwin remarried in 1921, and in 1924 resigned from the police department after 28 years of service.

~Notable Case~

The case that made Isabella Goodwin famous occurred in 1912. A group of so-called “taxicab bandits” attacked two bank messengers in Manhattan in broad daylight and got away with $25,000 (more than $600,000 today). Goodwin went undercover as a servant in a boarding house and was able to gather the information needed for the police to arrest the men.

~Read more about Isabella Goodwin in the newspaper~

Frances Benzecry

Frances BenzecryFrances Benzecry Sat, Mar 2, 1912 – 3 · New-York Tribune (New York, New York) · Newspapers.com


~Who was she?~

Frances Benzecry was a detective for the medical societies of Brooklyn and Manhattan. A graduate of New York Normal College, Benzecry was hired as a medical detective sometime around 1905. She investigated all manner of fake medical practitioners and healers, who were often suspected of operating without a license.

To catch them, she frequently submitted to their phony treatments and thus gained a reputation as the “most doctored woman in New York.” Benzecry reportedly had more than 75 aliases, but her best known one was “Belle Holmes,” and she was sometimes mentioned in the newspapers by that name. Since her cases occasionally overlapped with those of Isabella Goodwin, the two worked together on multiple occasions. 

~Notable case~

In 1911, Frances Benzecry (along with Isabella Goodwin) gathered evidence and testified against Willis Vernon Cole, who was arrested and tried for practicing Christian Science healing without a medical license. Benzecry visited his office pretending to have trouble with her eyes and back and paid Cole to cure her through prayer. Cole was initially found guilty, but after a series of high-profile trials, he won on appeal, setting a legal precedent for religious healing.  

~Read more about Frances Benzecry in the newspaper~

Newspapers are full of accounts of female detectives in history. Search Newspapers.com to find articles, photos, and more on this topic. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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Young Woman Rescues Child

Hats off to this everyday hero who, in 1910, rescues a child with her quick action.

Heroine rescues endangered childHeroine rescues endangered child Thu, Jun 2, 1910 – Page 1 · Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.com

Thanks, Vernie! Your heroism isn’t forgotten, even 100 years later.

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A Glimpse Back: St. Patrick’s Day, 1917

A quick look at St. Patrick’s Day from over a century ago, complete with parades, patriotic flags, and some excellent hats. :

St Patrick's Day Parade, 1917St Patrick’s Day Parade, 1917 Sun, Mar 18, 1917 – Page 37 · San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

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It’s March 14th, so Let Them Eat Pi(e)!

Welcome one and all to March 14th, the day that has become a celebration of mathematics and dessert known as “Pi Day”:

March 14 is Pi DayMarch 14 is Pi Day Wed, Mar 14, 2007 – Page B003 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Newspapers.com Today's the day for pi(e)Today’s the day for pi(e) Wed, Mar 14, 2012 – 23 · Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.com Larry Shaw, father of Pi DayLarry Shaw, father of Pi Day Sun, Feb 22, 2009 – 48 · Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) · Newspapers.com Pi Day with Larry ShawPi Day with Larry Shaw Fri, Mar 12, 1993 – 2 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

Happy March 14th, everyone! Find more on Pi Day with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Boy Swallows Pen Point

This quick summary of a “pen point” incident was found in a 1910 Los Angeles Herald. Wonder if he got out of taking the exam?

Boy swallows pen pointBoy swallows pen point Thu, Jun 2, 1910 – Page 2 · Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

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The Amazing Story of Frances Slocum: The White Rose of Miamis

Young Frances Slocum was just 5-years-old when she was kidnapped from her home by Native Americans in 1778. She was living near modern-day Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in a valley primarily inhabited by the Shawnee and Delaware tribes.

Her father and brothers were working outside when Delaware warriors entered the family home in broad daylight and carried her away.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
July 19, 1941

Her heartbroken family searched for her relentlessly, even offering substantial rewards for her return, but she was gone. Nearly six decades passed without word of Frances. Her heartbroken parents died never knowing her fate. Meanwhile, Frances was adopted into the Delaware Tribe and raised as one of their own. She later joined the Miami Tribe after marrying She-Po-Con-Ah, who would later become a Miami chief. 

Frances Slocum

In January 1835, Col. George W. Ewing was conducting business at an Indian Trading Post in Indiana. Darkness forced him to lodge for the night at the home of Maconaquah, a white woman living among Native Americans. After dinner, Maconaquah shared an interesting story. She remembered being taken when she was young and knew her father’s name was Slocum.

Her story intrigued Col. Ewing and he became determined to reunite Maconaquah with her family. He had the story published in a newspaper, a copy of which made its way to the Slocum family. Frances’s siblings immediately set out for Indiana to determine if their sister was alive. Isaac Slocum, the younger brother of Frances, remembered a scar his sister received when they were playing as children. He wanted to see if Maconaquah shared the same scar.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
November 1, 1971

Tentatively, they reunited. They determined that Maconaquah was really Frances, their long, lost sister! They urged her to return with them, but she didn’t want to. Frances’s desire was to remain with her people. By an Act of Congress, Frances was granted a square mile of land in Miami County, Indiana, where she remained until her death on March 9, 1847.

Her family honored her by erecting a monument and sharing her story. If you would like to learn more about Frances Slocum, the White Rose of Miamis, search our archives!

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The Bell Witch

In the early 1800s, the family of one John Bell was much disturbed by an entity that would later be called the “Bell Witch.”

Bell Witch of TennesseeBell Witch of Tennessee Sat, Jul 14, 1894 – Page 13 · The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio, United States of America) · Newspapers.com Betsy Bell sees the Witch in the WoodsBetsy Bell sees the Witch in the Woods Sun, Jul 15, 1894 – Page 10 · Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Hennepin, Minnesota, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Origins

The story of the Bell Witch doesn’t appear in papers until 1894, decades after the original incident. A man named Martin Van Buren Ingram published An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch. His (not especially authenticated) account of the spooky tale created the foundation for the legend that survives today.

Antics of the Bell WitchAntics of the Bell Witch Sun, Mar 21, 1948 – Page 89 · The Tennessean (Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Identity

Who was this ghost? Why did they call her a witch? And why did she bother the Bells? The favorite answer to all these questions would have to be Kate Batts:

Witch connected to Kate BattsWitch connected to Kate Batts Sun, Oct 26, 1986 – Page 75 · Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Hinds, Mississippi, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

A Famous Visitor

Whatever her origins, the Bell Witch was the hit of the county. People came from miles away to see signs of her existence and be pranked and pinched by the famous entity. The Bells were said to have even had a visit from none other than Andrew Jackson, future president of the United States.

Andrew Jackson and the Bell WitchAndrew Jackson and the Bell Witch Fri, Jun 18, 1943 – 4 · The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Interactions with the Bells

The witch seemed to be fond of Lucy Bell, and never bothered her. John Bell, however, found himself the target of her most upsetting behavior. Their daughter Elizabeth, nicknamed “Betsy,” was also frequently pestered by the witch, though mostly in the role of an aggressive matchmaker.

Betsy BellBetsy Bell Sun, Dec 19, 1937 – Page 42 · Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Betsy’s beau Joshua was, for reasons which the witch never explained, disapproved of. She repeatedly told Betsy to break off their marriage plans, which Betsy eventually did. She went on to marry her old schoolteacher, Richard Powell.

But all the witch’s true hatred was reserved for John. When he was found dead, apparently poisoned, the disembodied voice of the witch proudly took credit.

Kate Kate “Bell Witch” hated John Bell Tue, Jan 24, 1989 – 10 · The Leaf-Chronicle (Clarksville, Montgomery, Tennessee, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

With John’s death and Betsy’s broken engagement, the Bell Witch was satisfied. She left the family alone (more or less) after that. But even today she’s said to still be making trouble in her old Tennessean haunts.

Find more on the Bell Witch and related stories with a search on Newspapers.com.

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3 Ways You Can Learn About Your Irish Immigrant Ancestors Using Newspapers

March is Irish-American Heritage Month, but for many Americans with Irish ancestry, tracing family lines back to Ireland can be difficult. Take a lack of Irish genealogical records and add an abundance of individuals with the same name, and you have an almost certain recipe for hitting that infamous brick wall. If traditional genealogical records haven’t turned up the answers you’re looking for, newspapers can be another avenue to explore.

Many people’s first step when using newspapers for family history is to search for the names of their ancestors. Newspapers.com is especially helpful when it comes to searching for individuals, as our search filters for date, location, and more make narrowing down your results easier than ever.

But what if your ancestor’s name doesn’t turn up in a newspaper search? Or what if you can’t be sure that the Michael Kelly you found mentioned in a newspaper is actually the Michael Kelly you’re related to? One of the wonderful things about newspapers is that they can help you learn about your ancestor’s life even if you don’t find them mentioned by name.

Here are 3 ways you can use newspapers to learn about your Irish immigrant ancestors.

Genealogical map of Ireland, 1916. Go HERE to access the full-size image [Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.17.1916]
Genealogical map of Ireland, 1916. Go HERE to access the full-size image [Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.17.1916]

1. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestor’s life back in Ireland.

Understanding what conditions were like in Ireland at the time your ancestors immigrated may help you understand why they left.

A good place to start is by looking at Irish newspapers. Newspapers.com currently has more than a dozen Irish papers, primarily from Dublin but encompassing some other counties as well. We also have papers from Northern Ireland. Publication years for our papers from both these areas range from the late 18th to the late 19th century.

So if your ancestors were living in Ireland during that time, try browsing one of these newspapers to read articles and see ads showing what life was like back then. Find out about conditions for tenant farmers, learn what the Irish were saying about the issue of home rule, and much more. You can also look through our collection of newspapers from England, as they also commonly carried news from Ireland.

One of the primary reasons immigrants left Ireland was the Potato Famine, which lasted roughly 1845 to 1849. If your ancestors were in Ireland during this devastating time, learning about this tragedy can help you understand more about what your relatives likely experienced. One way to do this is by searching for articles related to the famine on Newspapers.com. Or, for a shortcut, head to our Irish Potato Famine Topic Page, which is a free curated collection of newspaper clippings related to that topic. 

2. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestors’ lives in their destination city.

Do you know where your Irish ancestors lived after immigrating to the United States? If so, you can explore newspapers from that city or state for the time period your ancestors lived there to get a sense of what their life may have been like after their arrival. From our Newspapers Map, you can see which papers are available on the site for a certain date and location.

Once you’ve found the newspaper you want to use, pick some issues of the paper to look at. The more issues you look at, the more detailed your understanding of the city will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by looking at just one.

From images, to weather reports, to police blotters, to letters to the editor—practically every part of the newspaper can help you envision what the city was like when your ancestor lived there. If you’re lucky enough to know the name of the street where your ancestors lived, search the newspaper for that street name to build a picture of what their neighborhood was like.

Irish immigrant family arriving in New York [Elmira Star-Gazette, 12.05.1929]
Irish immigrant family arriving in New York [Elmira Star-Gazette, 12.05.1929]

If you aren’t sure where in the U.S. your Irish ancestors immigrated, you can look at newspapers from common port and destination cities for Irish immigrants. These include places like Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Canada was also a popular destination, since it was cheaper to sail there, so some Irish landed in Canada before eventually moving to the United States. This means a search through the Canadian papers on Newspapers.com may provide additional insights into your Irish immigrant ancestors. 

If your Irish ancestors came through Ellis Island, as many later immigrants did, you can visit our Ellis Island Topic Page to explore newspaper clippings about this busy immigration station.

3. Newspapers can help you learn about the Irish immigrant experience.

Newspapers are also helpful for learning about the Irish immigration experience in general. Even a simple search on our site for phrases like “Irish immigrant” or “Irish immigration” returns thousands of search results that you can comb for information and experiences. For instance, if you have ancestors who came over around the turn of the 19th century, this article excerpt from 1900 New York may give you some insight into what it was like for them:

Newspapers will show you both the lows and highs of being an Irish immigrant in the United States. You’ll see articles about discrimination, poverty, and poor living conditions, but also about immigrants coming together to celebrate Irish traditions, building a community in a new country, and finding success. This kind of color will help bring your ancestors’ experiences to life.

Explore Further

We’ve been focusing on immigrants to the United States in this post. But if your Irish ancestors immigrated to England, Canada, or Australia instead, you can use these same methods to learn about their life in those locations. Just use our newspaper collections from those countries!

These tips are also useful even if you’ve already found vital records for the ancestor you’re looking for. Names and dates are essential to genealogy, but the journey doesn’t stop there. Newspapers can help you find the stories that will really flesh out your understanding of what your ancestor’s life may have been like.  

Do you have any tips for finding Irish ancestors? Share them with us in the comments! Or start looking for your Irish immigrant ancestors on Newspapers.com.

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Mardi Gras a Century Ago

It’s a bit of a read, but this article on Mardi Gras from 1894 gives a wonderful sense of the way traditions connect us through centuries. How much has changed, and how much stays the same?

Mardi Gras history and traditions, 1894Mardi Gras history and traditions, 1894 Sun, Feb 25, 1894 – Page 5 · The Times (Shreveport, Caddo, Louisiana, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

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Orphan Trains Head West

In 1853 Charles Loring Brace formed the Children’s Aid Society to develop programs for the growing population of orphaned children in New York City. In the mid-1800s, a wave of immigration brought newcomers to America. Without an extended family to fall back on, immigrants often crowded into unsanitary living conditions where illness spread creating high mortality rates. Other factors that contributed to the orphan population were disease, unsafe working conditions, poverty, and the Civil War. At one point an estimated 30,000 orphans roamed the streets of New York City. The Children’s Aid Society aimed to change that. From 1854 to 1929 an estimated 250,000 children were loaded onto Orphan Trains and transported from eastern cities to the rural Midwest hoping to find adoptive homes. At the time, there was no federal government program to oversee child welfare.  

Children board the Orphan Train

For some, the Orphan Trains resulted in children being placed in loving, adoptive homes. Others were paraded before prospective adoptive families and treated like indentured servants.  

Little 3-year-old Louise Anderson rode the Orphan Train and got adopted by a family whose daughter had died. She remembered her adoptive mother commenting, “We lost a little girl; she was so smart, and this one was a dummy.” Louise’s adoptive home was not a happy one. By the age of 12, she spent nights alone outside minding the cattle. She never attended school and was illiterate as a child. She married at 17 and learned to read and write alongside her young children.

Alice Ayler was one of the last to ride the Orphan Train in 1929. She was living in a tent in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York with very little to eat. Her mother would often disappear for days at a time and eventually signed papers relinquishing her to the Children’s Aid Society. Ayler took the Orphan Train to Kansas and was adopted. “I was one of the luckier ones because I know my heritage,” Ayler said. “They took away the identity of the younger riders by not allowing contact with the past.”

Most children sent west on Orphan Trains retained few memories and no documentation about their birth families. Siblings were often separated and never saw each other again. Seven-year-old Clara was an exception. Her parents and a sister died while trying to cross a river in New York state. She and her two younger brothers boarded an Orphan Train to Kansas where they were adopted by three different loving families. They remained in contact with one another throughout their lives. 

Two silk ribbons with the number 9 printed on them were the identification pieces worn by young girl who rode the Orphan Train

Nettie Enns remembers boarding the Orphan train with her twin sister Nellie. They were given blankets, name tags and sack lunches for the four-day journey to Kansas. After arriving, the sisters were adopted but their first home was abusive. Nettie remembers her sister being hit with a horsewhip after falling and breaking a dish. The girls were eventually removed from the home and taken in by a woman they considered their mother, though she never officially adopted the girls. Later in life Nettie and Nellie both married and lived across the street from each other.

Discovering information about family members who rode Orphan Trains is difficult, but sometimes possible. Begin with newspaper clippings in the city where they were adopted and branch outwards. Head over to Newspapers.com to learn more about Orphan Trains today!

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