How These Forgotten Female Code-breakers Changed History | woman at work

How These Forgotten Female Code-breakers Changed History

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From deciphering Nazi secret codes to intercepting the most complex Japanese ciphers, women code-breakers have been a force to be reckoned with. Back in 1917, the CIA did not exist, leaving the realm of code-breaking to a small group living on an estate somewhere in the countryside of Illinois.

19th-century computers and algorithms

The stars of this code-breaking team were Elizebeth Smith and William Friedman, one with a degree in English Literature and the other with a PhD in genetics. The two of them had zero training doing what they did, but, with an eye for discovering patterns which they learned in their academic fields, they were cracking codes for the military which were sent from Washington. Forgotten by the history books in the last 100 years, they are now gaining fame and prominence for their work, long after their death. In the same manner, 19th-century mathematician, Ada Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage on many algorithms for his early computer. She was also the one out of the two who realised the importance of computers in the future. Now Elizebeth Smith had a knack for cracking codes and “was repeatedly called in to fix messes that nobody else could fix. Her skills were so unusual that she became indispensable.” Her talent for code-breaking was used long after the end of WWI.

Women broke the most impossible codes

However, much of the credit for her work was taken by Edgar Hoover and the FBI as she was sworn to secrecy and did not want to be in the news. In 1940, the Japanese were notorious for their uncrackable codes, but code-breaker Genevieve Grotjan who worked with Friedman did the unimaginable and broke the unbreakable ‘Purple’ code. Meanwhile, Ann Caracristi who was wokring with her colleagues broke many crucial Japanese codes which led to the coining of “Pencil pushin’ mamas, sink the shipping of Japan.” Author of ‘Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II’, Liza Mundy explains, “They were able to supply the Pentagon every day with order of battle – that became a huge operation. At [US facilities] there were definitely women at every step of the way.”

Writers like Mundy strongly believe that women can equal men in programming fields, saying “We don’t need to have that debate because we have the history – when you go to the history, women have been there, and they’ve been doing this work all along.”

Image credit: history.com


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About Author

Amanda Francis

Ever since she cast her eyes on comic books as a child, Amanda has wanted to become a writer. She has two degrees in English literature and loves to scour the internet to write about all the things that intrigue people.

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