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A Chicago Gal In The Suffrage Era? Meet The P.I. For The Ladies

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 6, 2012 10:40PM


For the Chicago woman of the 19th century with sensitive sleuthing needs, Ms. Cora M. Strayer was a special P.I. to whom the ladies could turn:

"Ladies - When in need of legal or confidential advice why not confer with one of your own sex?"

Ms. Strayer's turn of the 20th-century print ad was recently brought into the 21st century thanks to the Vintage Ads LiveJournal group (the irony of "LiveJournal" and "21st century" is not lost on us).

The ad caught the imagination of Chicagoan and interactive web developer Paul Reda who set out to find more about this female detective of the Progressive Era.

What Reda found "spending no money and "researching" from the comfort of my couch" is pretty amazing. He constructed a timeline of this fascinating woman and has provided dozens of links to back up Strayer's story, which began in 1869 when she was born in Elkhart, Ind. The detective appears to have married and had children before becoming a widow-and ultimately-a pro sleuth on the South Side.

Near the turn of the century, Strayer was listed as living at "3819 Wabash" working as a clerk before apparently setting up her detective shop in what's now the South Austin neighborhood between the present-day Laramie and Central Green Line stops. Shortly after, the Trib profiled Strayer where she claims to have "studied law and practiced as an attorney for several years."

Reda covers some of the cases Strayer worked on, and other news clippings that reported her work as both a private detective and somewhat of an activist figure.

Though we won't chronicle every entry Reda has researched, we promise it's worth your time to check out more of this woman's incredible story. And while female detectives of that time were certainly a rarity, Strayer sounds like she was a pretty sharp and feisty lady, gumshoe or not. We love this quote Strayer gave upon forming the first volunteer women's calvary regiment encouraging ladies to join the fight in the border war with Mexico:

"Do you want to wait until all the men are killed to do your duty, sisters? A woman that would stand and let a man do all the fighting and suffering for his country is not a soldier. She belongs in the effete ranks of those who hurry abroad when the trouble starts. Pooh! She is not even worthy of the ballot."

Read all of Cora M. Strayer's timeline on Paul Reda's site.