Famous Women Spies in History

Unlikely Women Spies throughout History
Unlikely Women Spies throughout History | Source

Those Unlikely Women Spies

Female Spy: Julia Child

It would seem that "Bon Appétit" isn't all Julia Child is known for. Julia Child, the famous chef, was in fact a spy. She honed her spying skills while working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), known today as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). She even served as an undercover spy in Sri Lanka (Ceylon back then) sporting the highest security clearance any spy can acquire.

Julia assisted the U.S. Navy in solving their shark problem in World War II. It seems the sharks were continually setting off underwater explosive devices aimed at blowing up German U-boats. Julia developed a repellent that solved the Navy's shark problem post-haste; little did she know this would be the first of many recipe's she would create.

Julia met Diplomat Paul Child while working for the OSS, and they soon were married. When Paul was reassigned to serve in Paris, Julia found her passion in cooking. Paris is also where she trained at the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school, leaving the spy game behind and diving head-long into life as a gourmet chef.

Julia is not alone when it comes to famous female spies. You may recognize some pretty famous names in Hedy Lamarr, Josephine Baker, The Girl Guides, Pauline Cushman, Harriet Tubman, Virginia Hall, Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan, and Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, just to mention a few. Let's find out just how some of these unlikely Women Spies landed right in mix of spy infamy.

Hedy Lamarr's Last Movie

Unlikely Woman Spy - Hedy Lamarr

Female Spy: Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler

Hedy Lamarr is known far less as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler. The 1930s and 40's movie star was not simply an actor, she was a successful inventor who patented an idea that was to become the key to our modern wireless communication system. During World War II, Hedy, along with George Antheil, invented a way that made military communications secure by managing frequency-hoping, a very early form of technology referred to as spread spectrum. Hedy had the absolute perfect cover for a spy as a beautiful and famous movie star. Using her fame, Hedy was able to travel to a variety of venues on tour while she interacted with several people; not one who suspected the starlet of carefully listening closely and contemplating ways to assist the U.S. military cause.

WHAT YOU THINK REALLY DOES MATTER!

Given the chance, whould you spy for your country?

  • Yes. It is always good to serve something bigger than yourself.
  • No way! Too much danger, too much traveling, too much trouble!
  • Maybe. It depends on why my country was spying in the first place.
See results without voting

Unlikely Woman Spy - Josephine Baker

Female Spy: Josephine Baker

Another World War II-era spy is entertainer Josephine Baker. Her celebrity status helped to detract from her missions and spy efforts. Josephine was an African American dancer and singer from St Louis, Missouri. She found some success in the United States, but racial prejudices deprived of her true potential. She relocated to Paris at the age of nineteen, where she became an international super-star. When World War II began, the French Resistance recruited her as an undercover operative, where she transported military orders and maps from the Resistance into countries occupied by Germany. Her huge fame and renown made it very easy for her to go unchecked and unsuspected, as foreign officials were far too star-struck by the famous female. Josephine was not taking any chances in her willing spy activities; any information she transported? She made certain to write it in disappearing ink on her sheet music just as a precaution.

Just where is St. Louis, Missouri?

A markerSt. Louis, missouri -
St Louis, MO, USA
[get directions]

Josephine Baker lived in St. Louis, Missouri before finding ultimate fame in Paris, France

Unlikely Women Spies - The Girl Guides

Female Spies: Girl Guides

Stepping back in time a bit, during the First world War, The Girl Guides—the British version of Girl Scouts—were used as couriers by MI-5 (Britain's counter-intelligence agency) to carry secret messages. Because Boy Scouts were so difficult to manage, the War Office, who needed messengers desperately, decided The Girl Guides would be asked to serve instead. These young ladies who ranged in age from fourteen to eighteen, transported messages and patrolled on the roof tops. Each girl was paid ten shillings a week, plus food as reward for her service. Like all employees of MI-5, the girls took a pledge of secrecy. However, unlike many employees of MI-5, they were the least likely spies to cause any suspicion whatsoever.

Pauline Cushman Fought for the Union Army dressed as a man, escaping from capture to be awarded the commission of Mayor by President Lincoln.
Pauline Cushman Fought for the Union Army dressed as a man, escaping from capture to be awarded the commission of Mayor by President Lincoln. | Source

Unlikely Women Spies - Civil War Spies


Female Spy: Pauline Cushman

Pauline Cushman was an actress who worked as a Union Spy. Unfortunately she was captured while carrying incriminating papers and then sentenced to be executed. But, that's not the end of the story. As luck would have it, this female spy was a very lucky spy indeed. Three days before she was to be put to death, Pauline was rescued. Upon her safe return, President Abraham Lincoln gave her the honorary commission of Mayor, and she traveled the country for years, telling of her spy exploits in the Union Army.

Female Spy: Sarah Emma Edmonds

This cleaver female spy disguised herself as a man so she could serve in the Union Army. She was known for her bravery and chameleon-like ability to blend in, whether as a black slave or "disguised" as a woman. Frank Thompson was the name she fought under, and very successfully so. She became ill with malaria, so she checked into a private hospital where her true identity was discovered. You see, when she heard that Frank Thompson had been listed as a deserter from the Union Army, she had to come clean. She then continued her service as a nurse for the Union—using her real name—until the war ended. You can read about her exploits in her memoir's titled Nurse and Spy in the Union Army.

Say it like you mean it! Say it like a spy!

Here are a few top-secret Spy words:

  • Agent - A person officially employed by an intelligence agency.
  • Babysitter - Bodyguard
  • Blowback - Unexpected negative outcome as a result of spying.
  • Blown - Detected, as in "your cover is blown."
  • Burn Notice -An official statement from agency that says a spy or group is an unreliable source.
  • Chicken feed - Low grade information from a double agent to an enemy intended to build credibility of double agent.

Find more "SPY LINGO" in the table below!

Female Spy: Nancy Hart

Nancy Hart served as a spy for the Confederate Army, where she transported messages between the southern armies. When she was twenty, she was captured by the Union Army; she subsequently escaped after shooting one of her guards in the foot with his own gun.

Female Spy: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

An abolitionist, prisoner of war, feminist, and surgeon, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker also served in the Union Army as a spy. She would dress as a man and work as a physician, becoming the only woman ever to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Female Spy: Mary Elizabeth Bowser

A freed slave who served as a maid in the Confederate White House, Mary Elizabeth Bowser spied for her country. Her status as simply "the help"—along with the misconception that she could neither read nor write—made for the perfect covert cover. She was able to be present for some very key conversations, while being absolutely ignored. She manged to smuggle important information and papers to the Union Army.

The Language Of Spies Chart (Spy Lingo)

(click column header to sort results)
SPY LINGO   
DEFINITION OF LINGO   
Cobbler 
A spy who makes false passports, visas, diplomas and other documents. 
Cover
A spies secret identity.  
Dead Drop
A secret hiding place somewhere in public where communications, documents, or equipment is placed for another agent to pick up.  
Ears Only
Material too secret to put in writing.
Eyes Only  
Information that may be read but not discussed. 
Floater
A person used on occasion or for an event unknowingly for intelligence operations.  
Ghoul 
Agent who searches obituaries and graveyards for names of the deceased for use by agents. 
Informant 
A persson who provides intelligence to the surveillance team. 
Joe 
A deep-cover agent 
Mole 
An agent who penetrates enemy organizations. 
Peep 
Photographer 
Pocket Litter 
Item's in a spy's pocket (receipts, coins, tickets, etc.) that add to the authenticity of her identity. 
Ring
A network of spies or agents.
Safehouse
A hideout unknown to the adversary
Target
The person being spied on.
Hard Target
A target who actively maintains secrecy and may not reveal that she has detected the surveillance team.
The Take
Information gathered by spying.
Trigger
An agent who watches for the target and alerts the rest of the surveillance team when the target is spotted.
Unsub
An unknown subject in a surveillance operation.
Undercover 
Disguising your identity, or using an assumed identity, in order to learn secret information. 
Wheel Artist
An outdoor surveillance specialist operating from a vehicle.

Unlikely Woman Spy - Harriet Tubman

Female Spy: Harriet Tubman

When you think of freeing the slaves, Harriet Tubman comes to mind, as she is best known for her contribution to the cause. But she also served with the Union Army in South Carolina, organizing a spy network. While serving there Harriet also lead expeditions, fought as a soldier, worked as a cook and laundress, and aided in helping the wounded in a nursing capacity. Through her experience with the Underground Railroad, leading more than 300 slaves to freedom, she became very familiar with the landscape and was able to recruit former slaves to be her ears and eyes surrounding troop movement of the Confederate Army and location of any rebel camps. In 1863 Harriet went on a gunboat raid with the famous Colonel James Montgomery along with several black soldiers. This raid resulted in the ultimate freedom of over 700 slaves thanks to the information Harriet's spies were able to gather.

Unlikely Woman Spy - Princess Noor-un-nisa inayat Khan

Female Spy: Madeleine
Princess Noor-un-nisa inayat Khan, code name "Madeleine" was an author and a heroine of the French Resistance. The Princess trained as a wireless operator in Great Britain, and then was sent into occupied France as a spy with her code name "Madeleine." She became the sole link to communication between her unit and the French Resistance and home base. She managed a successful but short career as a female spy until the Gestapo captured then executed her promptly.

Unlikely Woman Spy - Amy Elizabeth Thorpe

Female Spy: "Betty Pack" and Code Name "Cynthia"

Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, also known as Betty pack and "Code Name Cynthia," was an American spy who was originally recruited by the British secret service and then later by the American OSS. She is most likely remembered for her acquisition of French naval codes. These codes, so it turns out, were necessary to the Allies' invasion of North Africa. She was able to procure the information by tricking a man who was connected to the Vichy French Embassy into giving them to her. She not only successfully captured the French naval code books from the safe in his locked room, she also captured his heart: after the war they were married, and spent the rest of their lives in each others arms.

More by this Author


Comments for "Women Spies - Famously Unlikey Female Spies in History" 34 comments

Soyinka 16 months ago

totally cool...ya gotta lov'em


Amit Kumar Mondal profile image

Amit Kumar Mondal 5 years ago from Calcutta, India

Great...


Sholland10 5 years ago

So extremely interesting! Great research and intriguing hub. Voted up and interesting!!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

K9-thanks for the HubHugs-my 4 yr old granddaughter actually called me with the info (prompted by her mom of course). It was late Friday eve and I had forgotten all about them, actually.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

DH~ Great Nancy Drew book-- The Secret of the Old Clock indeed! BTW, I see you won in the Hubbie awards! No better choice for the win!

Big HubHugs~

K9


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Hi K9--I remember those Nancy Drew books-I had the whole collection beginning with The Secret of the Old Clock. How could I have forgotten.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Mrs M~ Very pleased that you found the hub interesting. Unlikely Women Spies were a blast to research! Thanks for making by today for a read--

HubHugs~

K9


Mrs. Menagerie profile image

Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

Oh my gosh, this is such a great hub!!! I love it! Up, interesting, etc.....


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

DH~ Loved the game Clue! Still do. It has been an event filled 50 years to say the least!

HubHugs~

K9


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Oh, K9-Yes, Nancy Drew-how could I have forgotten? I looked forward to buying the latest one each week from 'Kmart' with my allowance money, LOL My favorite board game? You guessed it: Clue.

You must have some intriguing stories.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

WannaB~ Thank you for the well wishes in the contest. So many good writers to compete with (you included!) that it's just an honor to be included.

Thanks for your comments here about the lives of female spies.

Cheers~

K9


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA

I really enjoyed reading this, as spies have always intrigued me. Voted up and interesting. Good luck in the contest.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Denise~ I too had a blast as a child playing secret agent and reading the children's spy books. Maybe this is what motivated me to go into the military and then Law Emforcement later in life. "Nancy Drew" was the clue!

Thanks for swinging by for a 'secret' read!

Cheers~

K9


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Happyboomernurse~ You make a very strong point regarding who is and who isn't spying these days. Never underestimate any government when it comes to sneakiness! I was really bothered by the fact that the UK used the Girl Guides (USA's version of Girl Scouts) as spies; but they were extremely clever and made many forward strides in gathering and sharing spy information...I wonder if they get an achievement patch for this? :)

Thanks so much for the comments!

HubHugs~

K9


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

One of my favorite books as a kid was, 'Harriet the Spy' and I used to go around the neighborhood with a notebook spying on people and making up stories about them, LOL

Great hub-and sooo interesting. Julia Child a spy? I never knew that. I've learned am lot reading this one today.


Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 5 years ago from South Carolina

This was a really cool hub with a lot of intriguing facts that were beautifully presented. I learned things that I never heard before about some of these famous women. I was also surprised by the fact that the girlscouts were recruited as spys.

I think this hub should serve as a warning that it is exactly those we would think would be least likely to be spys may actually be gathering sensitive information.

Congratulations on being nominated for the Fan Faves 14. Good luck in the contest.

Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful and interesting.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Ms Dee~ Thank you so much for stopping by for a little "spy" reading today. Thrilled you found the hub interesting. Julia Child was a pretty amazing woman!

Cheers~

K9


Ms Dee profile image

Ms Dee 5 years ago from Texas, USA

How about that, Julia Child a spy! Very interesting of a peek into history :)


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Simone! Very cool that you enjoyed this Female Spy hub. I have great respect for the women here who challenged their world and through skilled measures made a difference. I am honored you found the hub worth reading. Thank you for the comments.

HubHugs~

K9


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

This Hub is all colors of awesome, K9keystrokes! I am a big fan of female spies, and didn't know about all of these! I love the lingo you've added, too!


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Leslie~ So glad you enjoy the hubs! Thanks for stopping by today.

K9


LeslieAdrienne profile image

LeslieAdrienne 5 years ago from Georgia

So cool!!! I love your hubs because I love history....


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

ChatKath~ I know! How much fun and excitement would the life of a spy contain?...loads! Really glad you had fun reading about a few gals that made histroy as spies. Thanks for the comments CK, as yours mean a lot to me.

HubHugs~ :)

K9


Chatkath profile image

Chatkath 5 years ago from California

I want to be a spy! That's what I want to do! How cool. And what a great idea for a hub K9!

Voted up and awesome! Good Job !!!


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Audry~ Julia Childs was in fact a spy for sure! She actually did get a little mention here in the intro... She worked for the OSS (early CIA agency)as an undercover Spy in Sri Lanka. She actually solved a problem for the US Navy regarding Sharks; she created a recipe for shark repellant that kept the sharks from setting off underwater explosives set in place to blow-up German U-boats. Little did she know that this was one of many great recipes she would throw together!

Thanks for the comments my friend~

HubHugs--

K9


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

Great topic, K9 - and you know who my brother-in-law told me was a spy? Julia Childs~ I've never confirmed that though and reading here, I didn't find her name listed so now have to go research it or my culinary hero's name will be in jeopardy~!


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Gordon! I hope your dog Robbie is staying out trouble these days...My fave funny (and brilliant) hub so far this year sir!

So cool and very funny that your friend's daughters are potential spy material! He must be sure they are not stomping about on the roof tops in practice for future spy missions! Although..., in this economy the extra shillings may be worth it!?

Thanks so much for the read my friend, it means the world!

Big HubHugs Gordon!

K9


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

livelonger~ Very cool that you took away some female spy trivia today! Mata was truly built for the spy game without a doubt! personally, I am fascinated by the civil war era women who dressed as men and fought alongside the boys! For me, I find this kinda hot! I sure appreciate you coming by today for a read!

HubHugs~

K9


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Wesman Todd Shaw~ You know it makes me very happy to know you found this hub worth while! Hope the coffee helps get your day rolling! I appreciate your support!

Cheers~

K9


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California Author

Twilightnera~ Outstanding that you found something new to take with you within the Female Spy trivia here! Josephine Bakker was a formitable woman who is a historical hero for World War II. She was as beautiful as she was smart!

Thank you for your comments!

K9


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Amazing, K9! When I saw the title - like probably millions of others - I immediately thought of Mata Hari, as I had never heard of any other female spies, outwith the realms of fiction. This was a real eye opener and I must certainly share it with one particular friend. I think all four of his daughters are presently in the Girl Guides. Wonder if he has any idea what they might be up to...??!! :)


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco

Wow! This was really eye-opening. I confess the only female spy I really knew about was Mata Hari. I love all the spy-related lingo, too. :)


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

This is an awesome hub. Right up my alley, you are - with this sort of thing. I'll be back to re read it again. I've not chocked down the first pot of coffee yet.


twilightnera profile image

twilightnera 5 years ago

I had no idea these women were spies. I found Josephine Bakers story really surprising. Very interesting hub!

Submit a Comment
New comments are not being accepted on this article at this time.
Click to Rate This Article
working