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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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Juliana Mickwitz

2012 Hall of Honor Inductee

An innovative linguist who was a prime advocate of new ways of exploiting language materials and developed highly-valuable intelligence information at a time when the U.S. lacked other sources.

Juliana Mickwitz was twice a refugee who outwitted her persecutors, a charming and determined woman who learned to drive at the age of 64, and above all, an American patriot.

She was born Juliana Ernestine von Mickwitz in 1889 near Vyborg, Finland. A daughter of the Russian aristocracy, Juliana was tutored at home and learned to speak German, Russian, and English with almost equal fluency.

After the ascent of the Bolsheviks to power in 1919, Ms. Mickwitz escaped Soviet Russia to Poland. Eventually, she became a translator for an American attachè. She survived the Nazi attack and occupation of Poland in September 1939 and departed Warsaw with U.S. officials. She was one of the last to leave and kept the American flag flying even as German soldiers occupied buildings around her.

Ms. Mickwitz worked for U.S. diplomats in Lisbon and came to the United States in 1941, when she worked for the War Department's Military Intelligence Directorate. She joined the Army Security Agency after the war and later the Armed Forces Security Agency, NSA's predecessor. With her native capability in the Russian language, she became an indispensible employee.

She became a prime advocate of new ways of exploiting language materials and developed highly-valuable intelligence information when the U.S. lacked other sources. Beyond that, she explained these innovations in a way that generated her significant resources to the effort.

Recognizing the scarcity of Russian linguists, Ms. Mickwitz took the initiative to teach and give language students direct experience that greatly expanded their capabilities in transcription and translation.

Ms. Mickwitz passed away in August 1976. The high standards and high performance levels of Russian linguists at NSA are her legacy.