One day in 1912, criminals robbed a car that was transporting money for a bank. The crime was brutal and it took place in plain daylight. The crime stumped NYPD’s Deputy Police Commissioner George S. Doughterty. With few options, he called for Isabella Goodwin! The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin: How New York’s First Female Police Detective Cracked The Crime of the Century is a short, fast-moving account of Isabella Goodwin’s rise in the NYPD!
The NYPD had just begun hiring matrons to clean the station houses and to search female prisoners. They could earn up to $1,000 a year, which was not very much, even at the time. There was no higher position for them, moreover, they sometimes went undercover, at no extra pay. Isabella Goodwin was one of their best undercover agents.
There were newspaper stories about Isabella’s work, and the public loved reading about her. She managed to keep her low-profile cover throughout all of this, even though there were some close calls.
Female Sleuths In 19th Century Popular Fiction
Female detective stories were starting to become popular in fast-read novels. The first story appeared in 1856 with The Diary of Anne Rodway, by Wilkie Collins. My link above leads to a free version of the book.)
Writers and real-life female sleuths understood that nobody would ever suspect a woman of this type of work. In an excerpt from Andrew Forrester’s 1864 book, The Female Detective, the narrator says:
My friends suppose I am a dressmaker, who goes out by the day or week—my enemies, what I have, are in a great measure convinced that my life is a very questionable one.
In my heart of hearts I am at a loss to decide at which side I laugh most—at my friends, who suppose me so very innocent, or at my enemies, who believe me to be not far removed from guilty.
My Opinion Of The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin
For The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin, Elizabeth Mitchell gathered material from archived newspaper articles of the period. We don’t learn as much about Isabella as we would like to, but Elizabeth Mitchell’s story is fast-paced and exciting. Isabella is so impressive, though, that it would have been delightful to learn more about her!
My links to the book lead to a $2.99 Kindle version of the book.