Certainly, two early female sleuths were gentle Miss Marple and the intrepid girl detective Nancy Drew, although neither was the first female detective.
Miss Marple first emerged in one of Agatha Christie's short stories ("The Tuesday Club Murders") in 1925, although she was not featured in a full-length novel until The Murder at the Vicarage was published in 1930 (Check out the original cover above. Anyone missing? Hmm...).
In many ways, Nancy Drew and Miss Marple could not be more different. Miss Marple elicited friendships over tea, making sense of gossip, while Nancy listened at keyholes, regularly finding herself captured or bopped over the head. Miss Marple was a lively middle-aged "spinster" who demonstrated wit and wisdom, while Nancy was a titian-haired teenager, later college student, who was highly skilled at everything.
Yet, arguably, both sleuths were products of the Great War. Miss Marple had lost her fiance and chose to make her own way in the world. Nancy had benefited from the nascent women's rights movement in the U.S, believing without reservation that she could do anything that men could do, including catch criminals.
The first female sleuth I could find that had been created by a female author was Loveday Brooke, in Catherine Louisa Perkis' The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective (1893). Loveday Brooke, destitute at 30 years old, had defied patriarchal convention to join a detective agency. Much like her better known contemporary, Sherlock Holmes, Loveday relied on her intellect and logical thinking to suss out her criminal adversaries. She offered a counterpoint to the widespread belief in the late nineteenth-century that women were emotional, hysterical, and incapable of logical reasoning.
In many ways, these sleuths seem to reflect something of their times. It makes me wonder, first, how my own amateur sleuth, Lucy Campion, might be a product of my experience? It also makes me wonder generally about more recent trends of female sleuths who have (more-or-less successful) crafts, businesses, and hobbies on the side, which inform their crime-solving capabilities.
Just curious: Do you think characters (sleuths or not) are still products of an author's time? And if you don't like that question: What sleuths or detectives (female or male!) do you enjoy? Why?