In the early days of the Revolution many Philadelphia women passed key information along to General Washington at Valley Forge. Lydia Barrington Darragh spied on the British in Philadelphia and informed American officers.

Two Loyalists - a "Miss Jenny" and Ann Bates spied on the Americans for the British.

All up and down the east coast women spied for the cause. Ann Trotter Bailey carried messages across enemy territory in 1774.

Sarah Bradlee Fulton ,sometimes called the "mother of the Boston Tea Party," delivered dispatches through enemy lines.

Emily Geiger rode 50 miles through British and Tory enemy territory to deliver a message to General Sumter.


"355" was a member of the famous Culper Ring, a secret intelligence network based around New York City and Long Island during the American Revolution. Major Benjamin Tallmadge formed this group as a way to supply General Washington with military intelligence on the British forces led by General Henry Clinton that occupied New York City. The British captured her and she was held prisoner on the prison ship "Jersey" . Read more about "355" on the CIA Kids Page.

During the Civil War Belle Boyd spied for the Confederacy by carrying important letters and papers across enemy lines. She was imprisoned in a Union prison for her espionage activities. Ironically, before the war ended, Belle Boyd married a Captain Harding, a Union naval officer.

The story of Ginnie and Lottie Moon is a fascinating one - two sisters who cleverly and brazenly spied for the Confederates during the Civil War - and got away with it. Look here for their adventures.

Nancy Hart served as a Confederate scout, guide and spy, carrying messages between the Southern Armies. She hung around isolated Federal outposts, acting as a peddlar,to report their strength, population and vulnerability to General Jackson.


Nancy was twenty years old when she was captured by the Yankees and jailed in a dilapidated house with guards constantly patrolling the building. Nancy gained the trust of one of her guards, got his weapon from him, shot him and escaped. After the war Nancy married Joshua Douglas and settled in Virgina.

Elizabeth Van Lew asked to be allowed to visit Union prisoners held by the Confederates in Richmond and began taking them food and medicines. She realized that many of the prisoners had been marched through Confederate lines on their way to Richmond and were full of useful information about Confederate movements. She became a spy for the North for the next four years, setting up a network of couriers, and devising a code. For her efforts during the Civil War, Elizabeth Van Lew was made Postmaster of Richmond by General Grant. After she died, in appreciation of her loyalty to her country, the people of Massachusetts had a gravestone erected on her grave which read, "She risked everything that is dear to man - friends, fortune, comfort, health, life itself, all for the one absorbing desire of her heart- that slavery might be abolished and the Union preserved."

"Major" Pauline Cushman spied for the Union, often as an actress.
Her many adventures were capitalized upon by P.T. Barnum
who guided her tours.
For an interesting site about her please visit:
Pauline Cushman
where Bill Christen's book has started a quest
for more of her history and background.

Throughout the war, Fairfax, Virginia, resident Antonia Ford impressed soldiers from North and South with her beauty, charm and conversation. Impressed with her ability to recall those conversations, Jeb Stuart awarded her a written commission as "my honorary aide de-camp."
Antonia Ford, Library of Congress

Based on information provided by Antonia - on March 9, 1863, Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby and 29 men entered the Union encampment and captured Union General Stoughton, while he slept in the Gunnell House. In addition, Mosby captured 2 captains, 30 privates, and 58 horses. Following Mosby's raid, Union officials searched Antonia's house and found the commission. Union Maj. Joseph C. Willard arrested and escorted "the spy" to the Old Capitol Prison. Along the way, Antonia stole his heart, and 7 months later Willard secured her release and they were married.

Though best know for her work in freeing slaves, after the outbreak of the Civil War, Harriet Tubman also served as a soldier, spy, and a nurse, for a time serving at Fortress Monroe, where Jefferson Davis would later be imprisoned. Her experience leading slaves along the Underground Railroad was particularly helpful because she knew the landscape so well. She recruited a group of former slaves to scout the locations of rebel camps and report on the movement of the Confederate troops. In 1863, she actually went with Colonel James Montgomery and several black soldiers on a gunboat raid in South Carolina. Because Harriet Tubman had inside information from her scouts, the Union gunboats were able to surprise the Confederate rebels.tubman

Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a leader in Washington society and one of the most renowned spies in the Civil War. She is credited with helping General Pierre G.T. Beauregard win the battle of Bull Run. She spied so well for the Confederacy that Jefferson Davis credited her with winning the battle of Manassas. Rose O'Neal Greenhow was imprisoned for her efforts first on "house arrest" in her own home and then in Washington, D.C.s Old Capital Prison for five months. After her second prison term, she was exiled to the Confederate states where she received a heroines welcome by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. rose

The most famous, and controversial, spy of World War One was Mata Hari - actually Margaretha Geertruida Zelle McLeod - a Dutch born woman who carried embellishment and exotic stripping to an art form. But was she ever really a spy? So many myths and legends have surrounded her past that it's hard to tell reality from mystery. She was an admitted courtesan, was not as she invented, an exotic dancer from India, and she was shot by the French as a spy on October 15th 1917. Historians now say that her principal French accuser was in reality a spy for the Germans and that her death was as much a needless charade as were her bumbled attempts at spying.

Another woman who was executed during WWI was Edith Cavell, a nurse from England who was working in Belguim during the war. While not a spy, secretly she worked helping British, French, and Belgian soldiers to escape from behind the German lines and eventually rejoin their units. She housed as many as 35 refugees at once in the nursing school where she was the administrator. When the Germans occupied Belguim they converted Cavell's nursing home into a Red Cross hospital, and let her continue as Matron under German supervision. By 1915 she had helped more than 100 British and an additional 100 French and Belgian soldiers. but the Germans grew suspicious and arrested her in August. Her trial in October lasted only two days and resulted in a death sentence, in spite of appeals from both the American and Spanish ambassadors for clemency. On the morning of October 12th , 1915, Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad and buried nearby. Eventually her body was exhumed and returned to her native soil in Great Britain for reburial - you will find these words on her statue in St Martins Park - "'Humanity, Fortitude, Devotion, Sacrifice"

During WWII A young woman from Baltimore, Virginia Hall, went to work for the French as an agent and was so successful that the Nazis began an all out hunt for her. By the winter of 1941, the Nazis were about to arrest her, but she escaped on foot over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. This was no easy task for Virgina Hall had lost her leg in a hunting accident earlier and wore a wooden leg at the time. Not content to rest she trained as a radio operator and then transferred to America's OSS. In November 1943, disguised as an elderly milk maid, she returned to France and resumed her espioniage duties.
Virginia was hunted by the Gestapo. They circulated a wanted poster with the warning, "the woman with the limp is one of the most valuable Allied agents in France and we must find and destroy her". But her elaborate disguise fooled the Germans and she painstakingly taught herself how to walk without a limp. Virginia collected and sent invaluable intelligence and coordinated air drops in support of D-Day. She also trained and led maquis resistance groups in guerilla warfare and sabotage.
After the war Virginia Hall was awarded America's Distinguished Service Cross in a simple ceremony...the only American civilian women to receive the DSC. She was also awarded the the MBE, the Member of the British Empire, for her courageous efforts. Virginia Hall continued to work for the OSS, later the CIA, until her retirement in 1966.

Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan, GC, MBE, CdG, was a highly decorated heroine of the French Resistance in 1943. Noor's American mother was a neice of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. An author of children's stories, the Princess enrolled in Special Operations Executive, in Great Britain and was trained as a wireless operator and sent into occupied France.
The Princess eluded the dreaded Gestapo for many months, cycling, with transmitter in tow, from one "safe house" to another."Madeleine" (Noor's code name) ultimately became the sole communications link between her unit of the French Resistance and home base, across the channel.
Sadly she was captured by the Germans and executed.
For some fascinating details and photos on Princess Noor, please visit Thomas Lipscombe's page at: The Begum Noor Connection . Many thanks to Thomas Lipscombe for providing this information.

A fascinating site about the extraordinary women of the SOE in WWII can be found at Heroines of the SOE

Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell was born in Paris on the 26th June 1921. Her mother was French, her father an Englishman, who had met his wife while serving in WW1. When the second world war began, Violette met and married a Captain in the French Foreign Legion, Etienne Szabo. Her husband was killed in North Africa.


Violette Bushell Szabo was recruited and trained by the British Special Operations Executive. While serving for them Violette went into France twice. On the second trip she was captured during a shoot-out after she killed several German soldiers. In spite of torture and interrogation she gave nothing away, and was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was eventually executed. . She was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre in 1946.

For more about this heroine who gave her life visit the newly opened museum dedicated to her: Violette Szabo Museum

Cpl. Barbara Lauwers, WAC, was awarded the Bronze Star
for her work with the OSS in WWII. (National Archives Photo)

dietrich Was famous actress Marlene Dietrich a spy? Well not exactly. During her work with the USO there was some press about her hobnobbing with the U.S. brass. In reality she made a major contribution to the morale of the troops during the Africa & Italy campaign where she withstood much privation in order to stay at the front. There she not only entertained but helped co-ordinate hospital and mess details. In the French & German campaign she often rode with Patton through the front lines. Her participation in Radio broadcasts aimed at Germany was actually a "black propaganda" scheme devised by the OSS and programmed to German soldiers to lower morale and promote defection. Dietrich was particularly known for the song "Lili Marlene". After the war Marlene Dietrich was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the U.S. France named her a Knight of the Legion of Honor and Belgium made her a Knight of the Order of Leopold. spy filmThis movie depicts the life of Claire Phillips a spy during the Japanese occupation of Manila. Just as Manila falls her husband is killed during the Bataan death march. Claire Philips then assumes the identity of a dead woman and opens a nightclub to get valuable information from the Japanese soldiers and officers.

Cynthia "Code Name Cynthia" - Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, later Betty Pack, and one of the most intriguing spies of WWII. Her adventures include an illegal break-in of the Vichy French embassy in Washington to steal French naval code books from a safe in a locked and guarded room. The most accurate version of her life and service can be found in "Sisterhood of Spies".

For a wonderfully informative narrative about all of the women of the OSS ask your library to find the book "Sisterhood of Spies" by Elizabeth P. McIntosh, published by the Naval Institute Press.

Also look for the Scholastic's little book - "In the Line of Fire" - Eight Women War Spies" by George Sullivan.

Learn about Nancy Wake, born in New Zealand, raised in Australia and served the allies in France. The nazi's nicknamed her 'the white mouse' because she always eluded their capture.
Nancy Wake
More about Nancy Wake

And what about modern spies?

Intelligence gathering today however is not about people who clandestinely gather information and pass it along to spy masters. It's a whole new ball game using space age technology - a new kind of espionage - information warfare. Industrialized nations have easy access to information through computers, modems, telecommunications nodes, satellites, and something called Intelink, the Internet-like network that has changed the way the intelligence community does business.

It is used by everyone from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency to sailors aboard ships at sea. It has crossed cultural barriers and operates between the many agencies world wide. And all the technology is commercially available.

But unlike the internet we use, the Intelink network is available only on a need-to-know basis. Intelink is in no way connected to the public internet and never will be. Intelink delivers some of the most sensitive data in the world over the Department of Defense existing, classified data networks.

Women are very much a part of space age information gathering and have earned high level positions in both the military and the many intelligence agencies in the government. It's a career path with vast possibilities and one that any woman who chooses to follow can certainly do so.

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Unless otherwise noted contents © 1996 to date by Captain Barbara A. Wilson, USAF (Ret)