Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Early Women in the FBI - Some Notes

This post is made up of left over notes from another post on an FBI document. I'm posting this here in case someone else is looking for stuff on early women in the FBI. They can save a little bit of time.

I was trying to find out when the FBI first took women special agents. It turns out there were at least four, sort of, in the old days. The first one, best as I can tell, was Emma Jentzer:

  • (1910s)Emma Jentzer is first woman to serve or a special agent in the Bureau of Investigations (later known as the F.B.I.) From a NOAA Female Firsts Chart
Then I found this scrap of court records. It showed up googling Emma Jentzer, but it doesn't really say what it is. (I found it googling "Emma Jentzer")

Court Document Scrap Harry J. Jentzer, an agent and employe of the United
States, to wit, Special Agent of the Bureau of investigation of the De-
partment of Justice of the United States, and to Emma R. Jentzer, an
agent and employe of the United States, to wit, Special Employé of the
Bureau of lnvestigation of the Department of Justice of the United States,
each of whom was then and there duly engaged, for and on behalf of the
United States, in investigating the said Hermann Wessels,

There's more, but not much useful. What's interesting here is that we find out there is a Harry Jentzer who is also an FBI Agent. And Emma is referred to here as "an agent and employe of the United States, to wit, Special Employé..." So, at that time (around 1918) Emma was considered a Special Employé, not a Special Agent. But Harry Jentzer was a Special Agent. I'm guessing he was her husband. You can see the whole document if you use the link above. It had to do with an illegal immigration investigation.

Then there is one other reference, a footnote in a doctoral dissertation on FBI anti-communist activities called "Red Scare " by Regin Schmidt.

“The Bureau’s main file on the two anarchists was opened in 1916, when the Bureau of Immigration in San Francisco requested an investigation of Berkman’s anarchist journal the Blast, But the ensuing inquiry revealed nothing “of a character tending to incite arson, murder, or assassination.”40 Following the entry of the United States into the war, Goldman and Berkman embarked on a crusade against conscription and they were immediately put under intense surveillance by the Bureau. Agents took notes of Goldman’s speeches, their journals and pamphlets were carefully scruitinized, their “No Conscription League” was infiltrated and all males liable for military service who attended their public meetings were approached by the Bureau and asked to show their draft cards.41

41. The reports are numerous, see for example, reports, Emma Jentzer, May 26, 1917; [plus six more by other people]
The FBI's own site gives us a little information from their Famous Faces Page. Well, this is the Answer page:

17. Alaska Davidson, who served as a Bureau special agent from 1922 to
1924. Davidson had two contemporaries in the 1920s - Lenore Houston and Jessie Duckstein - are a few of the women known to have served as agents before 1972.
So where is Jentzen? Not really a special agent? Only a special employé? There can't be that many 'known' to have served that they couldn't name them. The Philadelphia FBI website gives us a clue that things might not be that easy for women, at least in DC.

In November 1924, Lenore Houston, an employee in Philadelphia, became the first and only female special agent hired by Director Hoover. While serving in the Philadelphia office, Miss Houston received excellent performance ratings and was earning $3,100 a year by April 1927. She resigned in 1928, shortly after being transferred to the Washington Field Office. Philadelphia FBI Files

The FBI Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones gives us a little more insight:

I was trying to just wrap this up, but as I was looking for something on Jessie Duckstein, I found a whole account of the three early women agents. It's
by Lynn Vines and reprinted from "The Investigator." It also tells us why the doors opened in 1972. It wasn't just the death of J. Edgar Hoover:
The FBI is honored to be the host agency for the 1992 Interagency Committee's Conference for Women in Federal Law Enforcement. The year 1992 marks the 20th anniversary of legislation opening the door to women as federal law enforcement officers.
It goes on to describe what happened to the early women FBI agents when J. Edgar Hoover became director. I would note that another source did say that he cleaned house when he came in. So, a lot of people were let go. But the fact that no women were hired for the next 48 years suggests this might not have been just part of the general housecleaning.
When two women entered on duty on July 17, 1972, in New Agents' Training Class, the media repeatedly referred to them as the "first female FBI Agents." Although that term is technically correct, there were three female agents in the Bureau of Investigation in the 1920s. When J. Edgar Hoover took over the Bureau of Investigation in 1924 (later to be renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation), there were two women special agents on duty. They resigned shortly thereafter, but another woman agent, appointed November 1924, served until 1928.

On August 11, 1921, Attorney General H. M. Daugherty appointed Mrs. Jessie B. Duckstein for temporary service as a stenographer/typist at Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington, DC. Her salary was set at $1,200 per annum payable from the appropriation for "Detection and Prosecution of Crimes." Her work was quite satisfactory, and in December of that year her salary was increased to $1,400 per annum.

By July 1923, she had become confidential secretary to Director William J. Burns. Her salary was raised to $2,200 per year in accordance with her job classification. On November 6, 1923, Special Assistant to the Attorney General Martin sent a memo to Burns requesting a discussion of Duckstein's desire to be an agent. Fourteen days later the Director ordered that Duckstein's designation be changed from stenographer to special agent. Her salary as an agent was to be $7 per day plus $4 per diem in lieu of subsistence and expenses when absent from her office. Letters from Director Burns and Attorney General Daugherty informed her of the promotion. She was instructed to report to the Department of Justice for the oath of office.

Mrs. Duckstein was 37 years old when she became an agent. She was a high school graduate. Her work at the Bureau, especially as secretary to the Director, was thought to be a tremendous asset for a field agent. She was sent to New York City on December 3 to begin training. The Special Agent in Charge had no doubt that she would "develop into one of the best operatives of any investigative bureau." It was suggested that "this agent be especially assigned to study and analyze anything and everything pertaining to the so-called white slave traffic."

After completing this training Mrs. Duckstein was assigned to the Washington Field Office. In May 1924 Special Agent E.R. Bohner sent a memo to Acting Director J.Edgar Hoover saying that it was not advisable to have a woman agent assigned to that office. On May 26, 1924, Hoover requested Duckstein's resignation with regard to a reduction of the force under the appropriation for "Detection and Prosecution of Crimes." Duckstein wrote a letter on May 27 resigning at the close of business on May 26. Her resignation was accepted by Attorney General Daugherty on May 31.

On October 11, 1922, Mrs. Alaska P. Davidson was appointed a special investigator of the Bureau of Investigation. Her starting salary was $7 per day plus $4 per day in lieu of subsistence when absent from her office. Salary, expenses, and per diem were paid from the appropriation for "Detection and Prosecution of Crimes." When she entered on duty, Mrs. Davidson was 54 years old. Her education consisted of three years in education consisted of three years in public school. Her work experience was not in the law enforcement field.

She took the required oath of office, then reported to New York City for training. The Special Agent in Charge remarked that "This lady is very refined and could not work on every investigation where a woman could be used." He advised that she be assigned only to open investigations of a class that would not be rough."

She was assigned to the Washington Field Office. There is no indication that her work was unsatisfactory. However, in May, 1924, Special Agent in Charge E.R. Bohner advised that there was "no particular work for a woman agent" in his office. On May 26, 1924, Acting Director J. Edgar Hoover requested Davidson's resignation because of a reduction in the work force. Her res- ignation, effective at the close of business June 10, 1924, was accepted by Attorney General Harlan Stone. [It goes on to talk about Lenore Houston.]

So there seems to have been a few people supporting women, but a lot who had no use for them in the agency. And then there was this snippet from the Historical Dictionary of Law Enforcement

Robin Ahrens, First Female Agent Killed while on duty
Alaska P. Davidson, First Female Special Agent
Lenore Houston, First Female Special Agent appointed by JEdgar Hoover
Burdena Pasenelli, First Female Special Agent in Charge
It turns out that when Special Agent Pasenelli was Agent in Charge, it was in Anchorage. I guess they thought that was remote enough she couldn't do any damage. From The FBI By Athan G. Theoharis, Tony G. Poveda

And, as an Alaskan, I do want to know how Alaska P. Davidson got her first name.

For more a more recent 'first' woman in the FBI, this Seattle Times (Tuesday, June 8, 1999) article talks about one who became an agent in 1973.

Female FBI Agent To Retire Soon

SEATTLE - One of the first women to be appointed an FBI agent plans to retire this summer.

Burdena Pasenelli, special agent in charge of the Seattle division of the FBI, plans to retire July 31 after 30 years in law enforcement.

Pasenelli, 54, joined the FBI in 1973 and was stationed in Sacramento, Calif., and Kenosha, Wis., before being promoted in 1984 to supervisory special agent at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
I had found an obituary for Emma Jenzter while I was doing this earlier, but you had to pay to get access to it through the
NYTimes. But today I was thinking it was worth it and then realized I could probably get it through the University library. It fills in a few of the questions I had.

It turns out that Harry was her husband. It also says in the obituary that he was the first federal agent. (Well, obituaries are written by the family, so we have to take that with a grain of salt.) You can read the rest for yourselves.

The Ellis Island job makes sense since she was doing work involving illegal immigration.

OK, so that's what I have on this topic.


  1. Awesome work! Thank you SO much for posting all of this! Very helpful and very interesting

  2. Emma Jentzer is my Great, Great, Great Aunt! Her maiden name is Hotchkiss, and Great Grandchildren are still around today! This is a very interesting story!

    1. Oh, Anonymous Jentzer, you didn't leave a link where I could find you. When I did this post I did try to see if I could find relatives of these women. You can email me here.

  3. I’m Harry and Emma’s great-granddaughter. My dad is their grandson and is a vault of knowledge. You can reach me on Facebook -Michelle Jentzer Melsop.


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