Secret agents and powerful leaders are not limited to the men of military intelligence. In the brief history of women officially serving in intelligence positions within the United States Army, there are several notable figures. Like other fields within the military, military intelligence embraced women in service for the first time in significant numbers during World War II.
As members of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps and later the Women’s Army Corps, women worked during World War II as photo interpreters, cryptographers, and cryptoanalysts. Additionally, a select few women fought for the United States as members of primarily male intelligence organizations.
One heroine of World War II, Virginia Hall, served in France as one of the women agents who made up one-fifth of all agents in the Office of Strategic Services, the agency tasked with the responsibility of heading intelligence activities behind enemy lines for the U.S. armed forces during the war.
Hall first served in France as an agent for the clandestine British Special Operations Executive where she rescued downed British airmen, kept an eye on German activities in the area of Lyon, and organized a French resistance network. She returned to England in late 1942 when Nazis occupied the formerly free zone of France.
In England, the U.S. OSS recruited Hall to return, at great risk to her own life, into Nazi-occupied France to coordinate parachute drops of supplies for resistance groups. Hall camped in barns and attics disguised as an elderly woman to avoid detection. She armed and trained three battalions of French resistance fighters, and she and her team are credited with killing 150 Germans, destroying four bridges, derailing trains and downing telephone lines.
Nazi officials, aware of Hall’s work, called her “one of the most dangerous Allied agents in France” and dubbed her the “Limping Lady” (Hall’s left leg was amputated below the knee in 1933 after a hunting accident). At the end of the war, Hall was awarded the Order of the British Empire and the Distinguished Service Cross, an unprecedented honor for a civilian, for her courage and perseverance.
For the complete story of Hall’s brave work with the OSS see “The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy” by Judith L. Pearson.
Post World War II women continued to serve in intelligence positions, although in smaller numbers. For example, the 600th Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment, activated in 1949 at Camp Lee, Va., was the first all-women detachment and was responsible for post security. Women in Army intelligence, such as Doris “Lucki” Allen (featured in the Feb. 23 “Fort Huachuca Scout” article, “African Americans Played Role in Military Intelligence”) continued to make strides during the Vietnam War.
However, a majority of the growth in opportunities for women in Army military intelligence occurred from the 1970s onward. In 1971 the United States Army Security Agency opened operational training to women, more than a year before the Army became an all-volunteer force and opened recruitment to women in large numbers. By the end of the decade, 10 percent of the Army Security Agency was made up of female soldiers. The Army as a whole did not reach the 10-percent mark until 10 years later. The Military Intelligence Corps again led the way in encouraging gender equality in the U.S. Army in 1988 when it opened positions in tactical, forward-deployed MI units to women. At that time, women, such as Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, began to rise up through the ranks.
Kennedy was the first woman promoted to three-star general in the Army. She was also the first woman in military intelligence to achieve the rank of general officer. Prior to her promotion to general, Kennedy commanded the 714th MI Battalion in Germany, the San Antonio Recruiting Battalion, Texas, and the 703rd MI Brigade in Hawaii.
In 1994 Kennedy was the deputy commander of the Intelligence Center here at Fort Huachuca. While Kennedy served here, she worked to revamp the language lab. In 1997, she served as deputy chief of staff for Intelligence at the Pentagon.
While describing the future of military women, Kennedy wrote: “An Army comprised of men and women serving their country side by side with mutual respect provides [the] optimum balance.” After a 31-year career serving her country, Kennedy retired in 2000. For more information about Kennedy, check out her autobiography, “Generally Speaking,” at the MI Library.
Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to remember the contributions of women such as Hall and Kennedy, while simultaneously celebrating the ways that the military intelligence community continues to lead the way in broadening opportunities for women in the Army.