My blog last week was about 10 spies you probably never heard of, both men and women, ranging from the American Revolutionary War through World War II.
This week I'm doing a list of female spies (in addition to the women who were on last week's list) from the Civil War, World War I and World War II. And 4 of them are genuine celebrities, popular and well known for something other than being spies.
So, without further ado and in no particular order, here's this week's list of 11 female spies.
11) Violette Szabo—World War II
Ever heard of the video game Velvet Assassin? The game was inspired by her story as a Special Operations agent. Born in France, she and her family moved to London where she married a French soldier. When he was killed in battle 2 years later, she joined the service. As a secret agent, she parachuted into France and planned the sabotage of a railroad, disrupted enemy communication, and passed along strategic information. She was captured by the Nazis, tortured, and sent to a concentration camp where she was executed at the age of only 23. Her story became a book and movie titled Carve Her Name With Pride.
10) Stephanie von Hohenlohe—World War II
She managed to insert herself into high society wherever she went. An affair with a member of the Austrian royal family resulted in her pregnancy. She was quickly married off to a minor German nobleman. After the marriage ended, she became a fixture in the London social scene and later was a go-between for the Nazi regime and high-placed sympathizers in England. She was often called upon to offer advice and services to Hitler in spite of the fact that she was Jewish, a fact Hitler knew. She followed a lover to the U.S. where she was considered so dangerous that she was detained until the end of World War II.
9) Noor Inayat Khan—World War II
Known by the code name Madeleine, Russian-born of Indian and American descent, she served as a radio operator in the French resistance. When the Nazis raided her communication headquarters, she avoided detection but was later betrayed and interrogated. She was transferred to Dachau where she was killed at age 30. A book about her life, Spy Princess, is currently being developed into a movie.
8) Belle Boyd—U.S. Civil War
Known as Cleopatra of the Secession, she ran a hotel in Virginia. As a girl she began working to defend the South, charming secrets out of Union soldiers stationed near the hotel then delivering them to Confederate officials. Arrested, then freed, she eventually ended up traveling around the country telling her stories of espionage.
7) Virginia Hall—World War II
Educated at Harvard and Columbia with a goal of joining the Foreign Service…until a shooting accident on a hunting trip resulted in a partial amputation on her leg and a limp when wearing her prosthesis. She signed up for the British Special Ops and later for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. She discovered and passed along important military information and trained resistance fighters. On one mission she was forced to escape to Spain in winter through the mountains on foot. A book about her was released in 2008, The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy.
6) Krystyna Skarbek—World War II
After the Nazi's invaded her native Poland, she volunteered for British Special Operations. Under the name of Christine Granville, using her expertise as a skier, she transported information between Poland and Hungary through the mountains. And she could be considered the original Bond girl—Ian Fleming is said to have based several of his femme fatales on her. After retiring from Special Ops, she worked on a cruise ship and was killed in 1952 by a coworker whose advances she had rejected.
5) Marlene Dietrich (movie star)—World War II
German born, she became a U.S. citizen in 1939. She volunteered for the OSS and, in addition to entertaining troops on the front lines as did many celebrities, she also broadcast nostalgic songs as propaganda to German troops who were battle weary. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom.
4) Josephine Baker (singer/dancer)—World War II
From St. Louis, Missouri, she moved to France to escape the racial prejudice she had been subjected to in the U.S. She became a French citizen. As a popular and much loved entertainer in France, she used her celebrity working for the French resistance. The Nazis were so dazzled by her that they allowed her freedom of movement without thinking to check her sheet music where French resistance secrets were written in invisible ink. She helped to break down countless barriers for African-American women in her adopted country and also in the U.S. (she was an important figure in the U.S. civil rights movement).
3) Julia McWilliams Child (TV's The French Chef)—World War II
She wanted to join the WACs or the WAVES but was turned down because of her 6'2" height. So, she went to work for the OSS in research and development at their Washington, DC, headquarters. She helped develop a workable shark repellent used by downed flight crews and later for the U.S. space missions with water landings. She also supervised an OSS facility in China. She handled countless top secret documents prior to becoming famous as televisions gourmet cook.
2) Hedy Lamarr (movie star)—World War II
Born in Vienna, Austria, she made her film debut in 1933's Ecstasy. She fled the approaching storm clouds in Europe, landing a contract with MGM studios. But she was more than just a pretty face and an actress. She was also a brilliant mathematician with a unique ability in problem solving. In addition to using her celebrity to raise millions of dollars in war bonds, she was an inventor. She teamed with Hollywood composer George Antheil and invented a frequency hopping method for steering a torpedo. Today, frequency hopping is used for wireless phones in our homes, GPS, and most military communication systems.
And probably the most famous (or infamous) female spy of all time:
1) Mata Hari—World War I
A spy's legend so evocative that the mere mention of the name says it all. There's James Bond, certainly, but he's a fictional character. Mata Hari was real. Born in the Netherlands as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She responded to a newspaper ad seeking a wife, married an older man, and moved to Indonesia. An unhappy marriage and a fascination with the local culture turned her into a performer named Mata Hari. After her return to Europe, she became a sensation in Paris with her exotic dancing, skimpy costumes and sexy demeanor…wildly popular with some and scandalous with others. During World War I she traveled freely throughout Europe and was ultimately accused of being a German spy. She was arrested and executed by a French firing squad in 1917. She claimed she was spying for the French, not the Germans. Neither accusation (French spy or German spy) was ever conclusively proven.