Salutes & Awards

March 29, 2012

An abundance of patriotism defines historic women

Beth Bellizzi
Col. Angelia Farnell, commander, 111th Military Intelligence Brigade (left), speaks with National Security Agency Historian Betsy Rohaly Smoot after Tuesday's program. The Fort Huachuca Women's History Month program, which was held at the Thunder Mountain Activity Centre, was co-sponsored by the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and the Fort Huachuca Military Equal Opportunity team. Smoot was the keynote speaker at the event.

Maybe it was the personal details about the women she highlighted or the sepia-toned photos she shared, but either way, Historian Betsy Rohaly Smoot did it.

She gave these women, whose names were likely not often heard before Tuesday’s Fort Huachuca Women’s History Month program, Elizebeth Smith Friedman, Agnes Meyer Driscoll, Edith Rickert, and Genevieve Young Hitt, the place they deserve in today’s intelligence community for their remarkable past contributions.

In the year that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the military intelligence branch and the 25th anniversary of the Military Intelligence Corps, Smoot was a most apt keynote speaker. A National Security Agency employee since 1983, she works in the agency’s Center for Cryptologic History and addressed attendees gathered at the Thunder Mountain Activity Centre.

Taking the audience deep into the NSA archives, Smoot reminded them that the early 1900s marked a time of great opportunity for women in the United States. Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who began her government career in 1923, “was famously recognized for her success breaking the codes and ciphers of the “rum runners” who were seeking to import alcohol into the United States during the prohibition,” said Smoot. Agnes Myer Driscoll, who enlisted in the Navy in June 1918 and served in the Navy’s code and signal section, would go on train the leading male naval code-breakers of the World War II era.

According to Smoot, Edith Rickert, who came to Washington in late 1917 or early 1918, was likely the one who broke the code of the German spy known as Pablo Waberski. With the sincerity of someone who truly enjoys a historical challenge, Smoot remarked, “I’d love to uncover that [Waberski] story someday. I’m getting very close in the archives.”

While she did not have the same educational pedigree as the previous three women, and completed only a secondary education, Genevieve Young Hitt “is likely the first woman to break codes for the government. Genevieve is the wife of cryptologic pioneer Col. Parker Hitt. She had ample opportunity to study codes and ciphers with her husband,” said Smoot.

What Genevieve accomplished with her limited formal education would be nearly impossible in today’s world. Sierra Vista City Councilwoman Gwen Calhoun, who was the program’s opening speaker, highlighted the importance of this year’s Women’s History Month theme: Women’s Education; Women’s Empowerment. “Education opportunities for women are essential “¦. to the success not only to women, but to the success of our nation. Women in all walks of life need access to education,” said Calhoun.

As was demonstrated in Genevieve Young Hitt’s life, the key to women’s success is access to caring advisors.

Calhoun stated, “Young women need mentors; mentors in fourth-grade to reassure and bolster their interest in exploring all subject matter and activities; in middle school to encourage self-assurance “¦. and if her interest lies in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subject matter, mentors must be especially encouraging in guidance as this is the main area where girls fall far behind in acceptance.”

Smoot noted that it was through the support and advocacy of her husband that Genevieve was able to be successful in the challenging field of cryptology. “She readily took on complex work that was ground-breaking for a woman of her time “¦ While she did not have the higher education of her female counterparts she had a natural ability “¦ an outgoing personality and an abundance of patriotism,” said Smoot.

According to 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released in late 2011, it appears that natural ability, personality, and patriotism aren’t enough for Arizona women to achieve pay equity. The median salary for Arizona women with full-time jobs was just $667 a week, $2 less than the national figure. That’s only 87 percent of the weekly income of men with full-time jobs in the state.

We must “understand that the achievement of full equality between the sexes is essential to human progress and to the transformation of society,” stated Calhoun.

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