Women Spies: Virginia Hall, Harriet Tubman, Josephine Baker and Julia Child
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This is a 8:12 excerpt from THIS IS AMERICA, June 24, 2002.
Virginia Hall was one of the bravest and most successful spies for the Allies during World War Two. She was born in 1906 to a rich family in Baltimore, Maryland. She studied foreign languages while attending Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Barnard College in New York City.
In 1931, Virginia Hall took a job at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. Then she served in embassies in Estonia, Austria and Turkey. In Turkey, Virginia Hall suffered a tragic accident. Her gun accidentally fired while she was hunting. The bullet severely wounded her leg. Doctors removed the leg to save her life. After that, she wore a wooden leg. Her injury forced her to resign from the State Department. But she did not let it stop her from serving the Allies.
Virginia Hall was in Paris, France when World War Two began. She joined the French Army and drove a medical vehicle. Before long, however, she had to leave to escape the invading German soldiers. Later, in England, she was invited to join a secret British organization. The job of this agency was to organize resistance. It helped form military teams in parts of Europe occupied by Germany.
Miss Hall learned weaponry, communications and security. Then she was sent to occupied France. She established communications with the French Resistance movement in Lyon. From there, she successfully plotted the escape of many allied airplane crews and prisoners of the Germans. She saved many lives.
Later she escaped from France over the Pyrenees Mountains during winter. After a time in Spain, however, Miss Hall again spied in France. This time she was working for the United States Office of Strategic Services.
Virginia Hall dressed as a farm worker. She reported German troop movements and organized Resistance groups while caring for goats. She tried to hide her wooden leg under heavy clothing. By now, the Germans knew who she was. Some called her the most dangerous enemy agent in occupied Europe.
The Resistance fighters she organized gained great success. As the Germans withdrew from France, the fighters killed many enemy soldiers. They took hundreds of prisoners. They exploded four bridges. They destroyed communication lines.
The United States honored Virginia Hall with a Distinguished Service Cross medal when the war ended. She was the only female civilian in the war to receive this medal.
Women also served as spies much earlier in American history, during the Revolutionary War against Britain. For example, General George Washington used information from a woman known only as "three-hundred-fifty-five." That number meant "woman" in the secret language of American Revolutionary War spies.
Historians believe she was the daughter of a family loyal to Britain. She probably gathered intelligence at social events and communicated it to General Washington. Sadly, the British seized her in 1780. She died as a British prisoner, shortly after giving birth to a son.
During the next century, former slave Harriet Tubman demonstrated all the requirements needed for a Civil War spy. This brave African American woman had escaped from her owners in Maryland in 1849.
Later she led hundreds of other escaping slaves to freedom. They fled to states that did not permit slavery. Miss Tubman led almost twenty of these trips. At one time, anyone finding her was promised forty-thousand dollars for catching her dead or alive.
The Civil War between the northern and southern states began in eighteen-sixty-one. After fighting began, Harriet Tubman went into enemy territory to spy for the North. She provided the Union armies with information about southern troop movements. People sometimes called her "General Tubman."
Josephine Baker was an African American dancer and singer. She was born in 1906 in Saint Louis, Missouri. She was praised for her beauty and artistry. But she believed that racial prejudice would always limit her work in the United States. So she moved to Paris in 1925. There she gained international fame as a performer.
Miss Baker started working for the French Resistance movement when World War Two began. She carried orders and maps from the Resistance into countries occupied by Germany. The orders were written in disappearing ink on pages of her music.
She probably did not need to hide secrets in disappearing ink, however. Foreign officials were so pleased to meet a famous performer that they often failed to examine what she carried.
Julia Child is one of America's most famous cooking experts. She joined the Office of Strategic Services during World War Two. Mrs. Child helped solve a problem for the United States Navy while working for this agency.
Sharks had been swimming into American bombs placed under water. The bombs exploded before they could sink their targets -- German U-boats. Julia Child created a substance that frightened sharks away from explosives.
This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Sarah Long.