Spy Exhibit

Clandestine Women: The Untold Stories of Women in Espionage

The National Women’s History Museum presents the exhibit “Clandestine Women: The Untold Stories of Women in Espionage,” to honor all women intelligence officers who have served this country throughout its history. The exhibit was curated by Linda McCarthy, the founding curator of the CIA Exhibit Center. It was installed in the Women In Military Service For America Memorial located in Arlington Cemetery. The exhibit was scheduled for March 26, 2002 through December 31, 2002. It was later extended through January 22nd.

This exhibit coincided with the 60th Anniversary of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the historical predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Julia Child and Virginia Hall were among 4500 women who served in every position from code clerks to actual undercover agents in the OSS.

Julia Child, the famous “French Chef,” started her service in the OSS Headquarters shortly after the United States entered World War II. She was transferred overseas in 1944 and served in Ceylon and China. She was awarded the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service for the leadership she displayed as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat in China

Virginia Hall initially joined the Department of State as a clerk. After she was turned down for a position in the foreign service due to her gender and a disability, she went to Europe and operated with elements of the French underground as the first female field officer. She returned to the OSS fluent in German and French, and with a knowledge of Morse code. This and her ability to work a wireless radio made her a most valuable asset to the OSS. Maintaining her cover as a milkmaid, she delivered milk to German soldiers to learn invaluable information. After the war, she became one of the CIA’s first female operations officers.

Women’s participation in the defense of our nation dates as far back as the beginning of America. While defending against the British offensive, General George Washington relied heavily on the information provided by “355.” The number means “lady” in the code used by the Culper spy ring.

The indispensible role of Sacagawea on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, one of the most important and earliest intelligence gathering missions of this country, is memorialized in the newest dollar coin. She provided crucial knowledge of the topography and Indian languages. Aside from her value as an interpreter and a guide, she collected edible plants and roots as food and medicine and rescued many important documents and supplies. More importantly, she and her infant helped to make peaceful contacts with Indian tribes. As Clark noted in his journal, “a woman with a party of men is a token of peace.”

African-American women undertook innumerable acts of bravery and selflessness, and Harriet Tubman is one of the most famous among these women. The former slave became well known as she helped slaves escape along the passageways of the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, Tubman served as a valued Union scout, spy, and nurse. She is considered the first recorded African-American woman to serve in the military.

All artifacts featured in this display were from privately held collections and were on loan expressly for Clandestine Women.

“Clandestine Women: The Untold Stories of Women in Espionage”
was made possible through the generous support of the following organizations:

ING US Financial Services
The Aetna Foundation
History is a Hoot, Inc.
Women In Military ServiceĀ For America Memorial Foundation


Leave a Reply