Erika Janik on 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction

May 31, 2016

We all may know the name Nancy Drew but females in detective work go much further than that. From Kinsey Milhone and Vi Warhawski to Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher, female detectives in fiction go back 175 years.  

On this episode of Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with historian and Wisconsin Public Radio Executive Producer Erika Janik author of Pistols and Petticoats, 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction (Beacon Press) about women in detective work.

Janik says that females first appeared in detective novels in the 1860s and became popular in the late 19th century with Anna Katherine Green's novels.

Pistols and Petticoats follows the stories of several women detectives, including Alice Clement.

“She actually joined the force first in 1912 … She was about 35 years old at that time and she very quickly made a name for herself--she was a very colorful character and I think part of the colorfulness of her character has to do with the fact being a woman on a police force was pretty difficult,” said Janik. “She was a small women, about 5’2” and she was known for wearing ball gowns and a turban and high heels and pearls while she was out prowling the streets.”

Later in the discussion, Charity asked Erika for the "takeaway" from the book, and here's what the author told the IPR audience: "I hope that we recognize the very long history of women writing detective stories and laying the groundwork for the modern mystery.  Sherlock Holmes is not the first detective in fiction.  I hope we can start thinking about why we are more comfortable with fictional female detectives than we appear to be with real female detectives and what we can do to smooth the path for women into law enforcement careers."