Name: Violet Strange

Occupation: Girl detective and debutante

Location: New York City, 1899

As seen in: The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange, by Anna Katharine Green

Violet Strange is a character, created by Anna Katharine Green for her mystery short stories, The Golden Slipper and other Problems for Violet Strange, published in 1914. Strange is an astute young woman – only 17 years old – and the daughter of a rich banker. She takes up solving crimes in secret. Though the stories she appears in are old-fashioned and a bit stilted, Violet Strange is credited with being the first girl detective, and inspiring later famous counterparts like Nancy Drew and Harriet Welsch.

The Violet Strange mysteries begin with these lines by famous detective Mr. Driscoll

I find that women and only women are involved, and that these women are not only young but one and all of the highest society. Is it a man’s work to go to the bottom of a combination like this? No. Sex against sex, and, if possible, youth against youth. Happily, I know such a person–a girl of gifts and extraordinarily well placed for the purpose. Why she uses her talents in this direction–why, with means enough to play the part natural to her as a successful debutante, she consents to occupy herself with social and other mysteries, you must ask her, not me….

And so, Violet is introduced as a woman meant to pick through debutante society by blending into debutante society, a theme of both this column and the tales of many female spies and detectives, historical and fictional. When Mr. Driscoll realizes he would stick out like a sore thumb investigating a crime committed by young ladies, he sends in Violet ‚Äì whose reasons for becoming a detective aren’t revealed until the very last story in the nine part series.

Though Violet Strange isn’t a feminist icon in the way we might hope, and her character lacks some significant development, she is important because she was popular, and the first in a long chain of girl detectives to be featured in mystery novels throughout the ages. Anna Katharine Green, the author of the series, wrote many other books with famous female protagonists, and though she herself was opposed to women’s suffrage and skeptical of her feminist counterparts, many of her protagonists did discuss the difficulties of being a woman in turn-of-the-century America. When we look back through girl detectives in fiction, we must turn to Violet Strange. She was the girl who started it all.

-Rebecca Valley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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