Virginia Hall (1906-1982)
World War II spy Virginia Hall was born April 6, 1906, in Baltimore, Maryland. As part of her education, she attended schools in France, Germany and Austria. In 1931, at the end of her studies, she was appointed as a Consular Service clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. Hall had hoped to pursue a career in Foreign Service, but suffered an unfortunate accident during a hunting trip which resulted in the loss of her lower leg. Her injury disrupted her plans for a diplomatic career and she resigned from the Department of State in 1939.
Hall was residing in Paris when World War II started. She joined the Ambulance Service before France fell to the Germans and found herself in Vichy territory when the fighting ended in the summer of 1940. Hall managed to evacuate to London and quickly volunteered for Britain’s newly formed Special Operations Executive (SOE). Her involvement with the SOE mean she was sent back to Vichy territory in August of 1941. She spent 15 months in Vichy helping to coordinate the activities of the French Underground as well as the occupied portions of France. When Germany seized the remaining lands of France in November 1942, Hall escaped into Spain where she served the SOE in Madrid. She returned to London in July 1943 and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire; the British government had wished to recognize her contributions with a higher honor, but too much pomp and circumstance would have compromised her position as an operative.
In March 1944, Hall joined the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS); she asked to be assigned to occupied France. Since she was already experienced in clandestine work behind enemy lines, the OSS promptly granted her request and she landed in Brittany by way of a British PT boat because her artificial leg kept her from parachuting into occupied France. Her code name was "Diane," which she used to elude the German Gestapo; Virginia contacted the French Resistance in central France and mapped drop zones for supplies as well as commandos from England. She found safe houses and linked up with a Jedburgh team (British Special Forces) after the Allied Forces landed at Normandy. Virginia helped train three battalions of Resistance forces in order to wage guerrilla warfare against the Germans and kept up a stream of reporting with the Allies until Allied troops overtook her small band in September.
For her efforts as a British and American spy in France, General Bill Donovan personally awarded Virginia with the Distinguished Service Cross in September 1945, which was the only one awarded to a civilian woman in World War II.
In 1950, she married Paul Goillot an OSS agent. She joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1951 and she worked as an intelligence analyst regarding French parliamentary affairs. She retired from the CIA in 1966 to a farm located in Barnesville, Maryland. Virginia Hall Goillot died at the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Washington D.C. on Bastille Day, the French equivalent of America’s Independence Day, July 14, 1982.
- Pearson, Judith L. The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy. Lyons Press, 2005.
- This article is excerpted in part from the “Clandestine Women: The Untold Stories of Women in Espionage” Exhibition, produced by the National Women’s History Museum, Annandale, Virginia, in 2002.
- ”Virginia Hall,” Central Intelligence Agency, n.d., http://www.cia.gov/cia/ciakids/history/vhall.html.
- “We must find and destroy her,” U.S. News, 27 January 2003, http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/030127/27heyday.hall.htm.
- PHOTO; CIA