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Women in American Cryptology

Creating the Legacy

View the Women in American Cryptology Honorees

Although the number of women involved in cryptology has always been lower than the number of men, they have not been completely absent from the field either. Women have always been involved in America's cryptologic history. Some have reached the higher ranks of management and a few have been considered the expert in their field.

Cryptologic pioneers, such as Elizebeth Friedman and Agnes Driscoll, are well known to those who study cryptology. Were it not for their early involvement, the women of today may not have been able to reach their current numbers or status. But not every woman, or their organizations, has made it into the history books. Thousands of lesser-known women cryptologists have also played a role in creating the legacy women enjoy today. Their achievements, and in some cases their escapades, furthered the progress of women in cryptology. Women's involvement was sometimes sporadic, but significant.

The Women in Cryptologic History exhibit at the National Cryptologic Museum highlights the contributions of twenty-four women who have helped create cryptologic history. The display begins with a member of the Culper Spy Ring during the American Revolution who used her laundry as a secret code. Women spies from the Civil War also used codes and ciphers to aid those fighting for the causes they believed in. But it wasn't until the twentieth century that women began to work full-time in cryptology. During WWI several women considered to be cryptologic pioneers began their careers, as did some women few people today would know. During WWII thousands of women joined the military or worked as civilians for the military as cryptanalysts, intercept operators, technicians, machinists and every other position available in cryptology. Many of those women chose to stay in the field after the war, providing breakthroughs and contributions throughout the Cold War. Eventually, women rose to the highest ranks of management and today continue to support, develop, and build the cryptologic legacy of tomorrow.

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Ann Caracristi

2012 Hall of Honor Inductee

Women in American Cryptology Honoree

Ann Caracristi began her career with the Army's cryptologic organization during World War II. After a brief civilian career immediately following the war, she joined one of NSA's predecessor organizations as a cryptanalyst.

She served as Chief of Research and Operations organizations, primarily with A Group (Soviet issues) where she was chief from 1975 to 1980.

In addition to her management duties, Ms. Caracristi served in various capacities on committees and panels established to provide technical and career support to cryptanalysts. She mentored many of NSA's cryptanalysts. She also chaired a special panel convened by NSA Director Admiral Bobby Ray Inman to identify the next generation of likely NSA senior executives. Many of those identified by the panel went on to become Deputy Director or high-level seniors.

In April 1980, she was named NSA's sixth Deputy Director (D/DIR) and served in that position until August 1982. As D/DIR, she had special responsibilities for recruitment, training, and personnel.

Ms. Caracristi retired from NSA in 1982, but remained active on several panels convened by components of the Intelligence Community. President Clinton named her to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in 1993, and she has served as consultant to the NSA Scientific Advisory Board (NSASAB). In addition to her service on government panels, she was president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) from 1989 to 1991.