While American women were not assigned overseas as actual operatives, many performed a variety of support activities stateside. Most worked as clerks; of these, a large portion was selected to be code breakers and translators.

Anna Wagner Keichline
Anna Keichline
Photo Credit: Association of Women Industrial Designers
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Anna Wagner Keichline (1889-1943)

  • Respected and acclaimed architect who actively sought service in World War I.
  • Was named a “special agent” assigned to Washington, DC.
  • Not content with the research and report-generating tasks she had been given, declared to Capt. Harry A. Taylor of the U.S. Army, Military Intelligence Division:
    Am twenty-eight and physically somewhat stronger than the average. Might add that I can operate and take care of a car. The above [summary of education and professional experience] would suggest a drafting or office job, but if you should deem it advisable to give me something more difficult, or as I wish to say more dangerous, I should much prefer it."
  • Exact nature of her intelligence-gathering activities remains a mystery.

Throughout the First World War, the U.S. War Department came to rely heavily upon cryptology—the science of enciphering and deciphering messages. Hundreds of American women ably served as cryptographers, helping to advance the use of electronic messaging technologies by enhancing their security.

Elizabeth S. Friedman (1892-1980)

  • Recruited in 1916; helped document the history and evolution of secret communications.
  • Served a cryptanalyst for the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Prohibition and Bureau of Customs.
  • Broke encoded radio messages used by international smuggling and drug running rings in various parts of the world. 
  • During the Cold War, devised and then helped manage security systems protecting International Monetary Fund resources.
Elizabeth S. Friedman
Elizabeth S. Friedman
Photo Credit: NSA

Ruth Wilson
Ruth Wilson
Photo Credit: NSA
Ruth Wilson
  • In 1918, recruited for cryptologic work by MI-8, precursor of National Security Agency (NSA).
  • Helped break a variety of codes used Central and South America.
  • Became a Japanese linguist

Agnes Meyer Driscoll (1889-1971)

  • Mathematics, physics, foreign languages, and music major.
  • In 1918, was recruited as a Navy chief Yeoman (F); assigned to the Director of Naval Communications Code and Signal unit.
  • Interested in technology and science; advocated the use of machines to encipher and decipher messages.
  • Co-developer of U.S. Navy’s “CM” cipher machine.          
  • In 1920s, broke Japan’s Red Book Code.
  • In 1930s, broke Japan’s Blue Book Code.
  • Is credited with helping to break Japanese operational code JN-25.
  • Compromising JN-25 greatly aided America’s response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


Agnes Meyer Driscoll
Agnes Meyer Driscoll
Photo Credit: NSA







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