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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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Dorothy T. Blum

2004 Hall of Honor Inductee

Women in American Cryptology Honoree

Dorothy Toplitzky Blum significantly changed the way NSA did cryptanalysis. She was a pioneer in the use of computers to manipulate and process data automatically. As a manager, she showed empathy for her subordinates and worked to enhance the careers of everyone in her organization. Those who recall Dottie Blum usually rate her interest in people even higher than her technical gifts.

Ms. Blum was born in New York City in 1924. After earning a bachelor's degree from Brooklyn College, she joined the Army's cryptologic organization in 1944. After World War II, she moved to the Armed Forces Security Agency and later to NSA.

In the 1950s, Ms. Blum's professional interests had expanded from traditional cryptanalysis into cryptanalytic applications of computer technology to NSA's mission. She was a member of the Agency organization tasked to "keep abreast of the latest advances in the field of computing."

Ms. Blum was one of the pioneers in writing computer software at NSA. She led the effort to recruit Agency employees to learn how to program cryptanalytic techniques. She was aware of and taking advantage of the computer language FORTRAN at least three years before it became publicly available in 1957.

For the rest of her career at NSA, Ms. Blum significantly shaped the architecture of computer systems and automation of processes at the Agency. She was appointed chief of the Computer Operations Organization in 1972; at that time she was the only woman in the entire CO management chain. From 1977 until her death in 1980, she was Chief of Plans and Project Development in the Telecommunications and Computer Services Organization.

Dorothy Blum was also a leader in the WIN organization, at the time called Women In NSA. In 1983, WIN established the Dorothy T. Blum Award for excellence in employee personal and professional development.

Throughout her years in management, Ms. Blum was well known for her "sincere, personal interest in people and … for the astute and effective career guidance and counseling she gave many Agency employees."