During the first half 20th century, almost every nation prohibited women from joining the military. Except for the medical field, most females could not take an active part in warfare. Yet, there is a long history of women being involved in the deceptive world of espionage. Extensive documentation exists of women working undercover or involved in covert intelligence during World War I and World War II.
Here’s a look at some of the interesting women who were active spies during WWI and WWII.
Mata Hari – World War I
Most people have heard the name but may not know her importance. She was a spy during WWI. Her real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle McLeod. Born in the Netherlands, her spy persona was as an exotic dancer from India. No one knows how long she worked as a spy. Although, it is known that she was a Lady of The Night. She was caught after contacting an informant. She was then tried and executed as a spy by France.
Edith Cavell -WWI
As a native-born British Citizen, Cavell was a nurse working in a school in Belgium. Edith helped soldiers escape from the Germans by finding transportation for them to safe locations. She helped at least 200 soldiers escape the clutches of the German army. She was caught by the Germans and shot by a firing squad in 1918.
Virginia Hall – WWII
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, to a privileged family, Virginia aspired to work as a diplomat as a young adult. Her aspirations were cut short when she lost part of her leg in an accident.
In 1940, while in England, she volunteered for the SOE and moved to France where she supported the Resistance until the Nazi takeover. She escaped by foot over the mountains to Spain, where she continued her work for the SOE until 1944, when she joined the OSS and returned to France. She continued working with the Resistance and helped by providing maps to allied forces, finding safe houses and providing intelligence information. She was on the Germans Most Wanted list and was called the “Woman with a Limp,” which she later worked to eliminate.
Julia McWilliams Child -WWII
Julia Child was doing more than just cooking during WWII. She worked in research and development for the OSS in Washington D.C.
During her time there, she worked on a unique shark repellent for downed pilots and later used on U.S. space missions with water landings. She also supervised an OSS facility in China. She researched and worked on many top-secret projects before gaining her television fame as a French Chef.
Marlene was German-born but became an American citizen in 1939. She volunteered for the OSS during the war and helped entertain the troops on the front lines.
Brave Women Who Risked Their Lives
These are but a few of the brave women who risked their lives to protect and serve their countries. Their lives are often obscure because women were not allowed to take leadership roles and serve their country in military roles. Many of these women lost their lives in the fight for freedom and should be remembered for their bravery and for the risks they took to help their fellowmen.