March is Women’s History Month! Explore the shadowy world of espionage at SPY and uncover the daring role female spies have played throughout history.
- Spies and Spymasters
- Covert Action/Exfiltration
- World War II
- Who Would've Guessed
MATA HARI - FEMME FATALE
Mata Hari embodied all the intrigue of espionage and remains the most famous female spy in history. The dancer turned WWI spy is said to have seduced diplomats and military officers into giving up their secrets. In February 1917, French authorities arrested her for espionage after intercepting an enemy telegram implicating her as a German spy. She was accused of revealing details of the Allies’ new weapon, found guilty and sentenced to death. A femme fatale, using sex appeal to entice, manipulate…and extract secrets. It’s the stuff of Hollywood movies. That is the legend and legacy of Mata Hari.
View an ornate bodice that belonged to Mata Hari now on display!
VIRGINIA HALL - AMERICA'S INCREDIBLE LIMPING LADY
Of the many women who served in the OSS, field agent Virginia Hall was one of the most distinguished. Undaunted by her artificial leg, she created a spy network and helped organize and arm French commandos behind enemy lines. Posing as a dairy farmer, she scouted potential drop zones while herding cows. Later, she tapped out Morse code messages over wireless radio to officials in London. She radioed intelligence reports, coordinated parachute drops of supplies, oversaw sabotage missions, and planned ambushes of German soldiers. Virginia Hall was the only female civilian in World War II to receive the coveted Distinguished Service Cross. After the war, Hall became one of the CIA’s first female operations officers.
Iconic singer and dancer Josephine Baker is best-known for her entertainment career that spanned five decades. She was also an agent for French intelligence during WWII.
As the story goes, Nazi guards were so star-struck by Baker, known in various circles as the "Black Pearl," that they let her slip across the border without trouble — not knowing she carried secret messages written in invisible ink on her sheet music. After the war, Baker was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her service. View her original sheet music on display in the Museum's "Who Would've Guessed" exhibit.
Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman escaped bondage in 1849 and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Known as Moses, she led more than 300 enslaved people to freedom and “never lost a single passenger.” A Union spy and military commander, Tubman collected intel behind enemy lines. She also led three US gunboats and 150 African American soldiers on a raid rescuing 750 enslaved people and destroying Confederate estates. Explore her story in the Museum's "Who Would've Guessed" exhibit.
Malcolm Nance is a veteran with 30-years of service in US intelligence. Nance was a career US Navy terrorism intelligence collector, code breaker, and interrogator with wide-ranging field and combat experience in the Middle East, South West Asia, and Africa. Today, Nance is a counterterrorism analyst for MSNBC and serves as a Middle East policy advisor to US and international governments on special operations, homeland security, and intelligence.
View Nance's original ghillie suit used while in the field (Pakistan, 2002) on display in the Museum's Covert Action gallery . The suit is the closest thing that exists to an invisibility cloak: worn by snipers, special operators, and intelligence collectors to stay hidden in plain sight.