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Book Review: The Pinks

The Pinks: The First Women Detectives, Operatives, and Spies wih the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. By Chris Enss.Published by TwoDot;​; 184 pages; $16.95.

Undiscovered history is that which exists but is not commonly known. The security industry has a rich and diverse amount of such history. The Pinks: The First Women Detectives, Operatives, and Spies with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency is loaded with undiscovered history and told in an easily read, engaging style by best-selling author and licensed private investigator Chris Enss.  ​

Enss reveals the stories of 12 women who were Pinkerton Agency operatives, paid informants, or others who reported to Alan Pinkerton during the American Civil War. Beginning with Kate Warne, who started with the agency in 1856 and went on to head the Woman's Detective Bureau, Enss enthralls the reader with the exploits of the female operatives and those they worked with. As a result, there is additional perspective on founder Alan Pinkerton, operative Timothy Webster, and others. 

Hattie Lewis Lawton was the second woman hired by Pinkerton (1860). She may also have been the first mixed-race detective in history. Lawton worked with Timothy Webster when the two posed as man and wife in Richmond, Virginia. Lawton and Webster were captured by the Confederates. Webster was hanged, but Lawton was exchanged for other prisoners a few months later. She also worked with John Scobell, a former slave who had been educated by his master. 

These and other tidbits speak volumes about how Pinkerton was an independent thinker. The idea of hiring women and African Americans during this time period was truly revolutionary. He was involved with the Underground Railroad in flagrant violation of the Fugitive Slave Act while maintaining a high profile as America's leading investigator and working with police.  

Enss describes additional cases handled by female operatives. A fair portion of the book deals with the assassination plot on President-Elect Abraham Lincoln. Kate Warne played a key role in this operation. She hung out in places where secessionists could be overheard, gaining key details of the plot. Her role expanded to carrying a pistol and posing as Lincoln's sister who was caring for her ill brother on a covert train ride through Baltimore.  

Another fascinating case describes operative Elizabeth Baker and her work forwarding information to the Union about Confederate shipbuilding activity, including submarines. Freed slave Mary Touvestre collected information on the rebuilding of the ironclad Merrimac. Six months after her information was forwarded, the Union launched the Monitor—its first ironclad—which went on to severely damage the Merrimac.  

The Pinks belongs on the shelf of history buffs, academicians, and security professionals. It sheds new light on the important contributions that the Pinkerton Agency made to American history.

​Reviewer: Chris Hertig, CPP, CPOI (Certified Protection Officer Instructor) is a longtime member of the ASIS Professional Development Council. He was the principal author of "The Evolution of Asset Protection & Security" chapter in The Professional Protection Officer, the text for the Certified Protection Officer (CPO) program.