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The Woman All Spies Fear
Cover of The Woman All Spies Fear
The Woman All Spies Fear
Code Breaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman and Her Hidden Life
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An inspiring true story, perfect for fans of Hidden Figures, about an American woman who pioneered codebreaking in WWI and WWII but was only recently recognized for her extraordinary contributions.A...
An inspiring true story, perfect for fans of Hidden Figures, about an American woman who pioneered codebreaking in WWI and WWII but was only recently recognized for her extraordinary contributions.A...
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  • An inspiring true story, perfect for fans of Hidden Figures, about an American woman who pioneered codebreaking in WWI and WWII but was only recently recognized for her extraordinary contributions.

    A YALSA EXCELLENCE IN NONFICTION FINALIST • A KIRKUS BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR


    Elizebeth Smith Friedman had a rare talent for spotting patterns and solving puzzles. These skills led her to become one of the top cryptanalysts in America during both World War I and World War II.
     
    She originally came to code breaking through her love for Shakespeare when she was hired by an eccentric millionaire to prove that Shakespeare's plays had secret messages in them. Within a year, she had learned so much about code breaking that she was a star in the making. She went on to play a major role decoding messages during WWI and WWII and also for the Coast Guard's war against smugglers.
     
    Elizebeth and her husband, William, became the top code-breaking team in the US, and she did it all at a time when most women weren't welcome in the workforce.

    Amy Butler Greenfield is an award-winning historian and novelist who aims to shed light on this female pioneer of the STEM community.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    Chapter One 

    The Doll Shop Spy

    In 1942, in the middle of World War II, some strange letters came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They were all addressed to the same person in Argentina, and they all sounded oddly alike, yet they came from four different American women. The letters were about dolls, and they ran like this:

    I have been so very busy these days, this is the first time I have been over to Seattle for weeks. I came over today to meet my son who is here from Portland on business and to get my little granddaughters doll repaired. I must tell you this amusing story, the wife of an important business associate gave her an Old German bisque Doll dressed in a Hulu Grass skirt . . .

    When the FBI questioned the women who supposedly had sent the letters, the women knew nothing about them. FBI lab experts confirmed that the women’s signatures were excellent forgeries.

    Someone knew these women well enough to fake their handwriting. Someone was hiding behind their names. Could it be a spy?

    The FBI kept digging for clues. The four women lived in different cities and didn’t know each other, but it turned out they had something in common. All of them were long-distance customers of a doll shop at 718 Madison Avenue in New York City.

    The FBI checked out the shop. Filled with pricey dolls in fancy costumes, it didn’t look like the headquarters of a spy ring. The shop’s owner, Velvalee Dickinson, appeared innocent, too. A graduate of Stanford University, she was a fifty-year-old widow who had been in the doll business since 1937. She and her late husband had once been friends with many Japanese officials, but that was before Japan and the United States had gone to war.

    The FBI remained leery. They staked out the doll shop, and they examined Dickinson’s bank account and safe-deposit box. In January 1944, after they traced some of her money back to Japanese sources, they arrested her as a spy.

    Dickinson fought back. Tiny, dark-haired, and delicate, she screamed and kicked, scratching at the FBI agents like a wildcat. The money had nothing to do with spies, she insisted when they questioned her. It came from her doll business and insurance payouts.

    The FBI was worried. While they’d been able to connect Dickinson to the letters, they weren’t sure how to interpret them. The money trail was also murky, with no clear proof of a link to spymasters. Everything was guesswork, which wouldn’t impress anyone when the case went to trial.

    One of the lawyers who had to prosecute the case was U.S. attorney Edward Wallace. He had plenty of courtroom experience, and he knew it was time to seek help. He also knew exactly who he wanted to approach—one of America’s top code breakers, Elizebeth Smith Friedman.

    Like Dickinson, Elizebeth was also small, dark-haired, and college-educated, but the resemblance ended there. As a young woman, she had played a key role in code breaking during World War I. She later cracked the codes of American mobsters, smashing their crime gangs. Now, in 1944, she had a top-secret job at the Navy.

    Wallace believed that if anyone could crack the Doll Woman letters, it was Elizebeth. But when he asked the FBI if he could put her onto the case, the FBI balked. It wasn’t that they doubted her skill. They had worked with her many times before, so they knew just how good she was. As they saw it, the problem was that Elizebeth was too good. They couldn’t stand the thought that the credit for catching Dickinson might go to her, and not to the FBI.

    When it came down to it, however, the FBI needed a...

About the Author-

  • Amy Butler Greenfield is an award-winning historian and novelist who writes for both adults and children. Some of her work includes Charntress, Virginia Bound, and A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. An enthusiastic speaker, she has given popular talks at Harvard University's Sackler Museum, the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, the Los Angeles Public Library, and GCHQ, as well as many wonderful bookstores, classrooms, and lecture halls in between.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2021
    This biography of a groundbreaking cryptanalyst is entwined with crucial episodes in U.S. history. Thorough research and accessible, enthusiastic writing create a page-turning read as thrilling as a spy novel. The text begins with Elizebeth Smith's childhood: born in Indiana in 1892 to a Civil War veteran father and a former teacher mother, both devout Christians, she was determined to attend college despite her father's opposition. She succeeded, finding her way to Chicago, where a library visit led to a research job working for eccentric millionaire Col. Fabyan at his estate, Riverbank. There she met a Russian-born fellow employee, her future husband, William Friedman. They eventually comprised Fabyan's Department of Ciphers and married despite both families' religious objections (William was Jewish). Almost unbelievable adventures ensued as the couple practiced their craft and plotted their escape from Riverbank's maniacal owner. Elizebeth's skills enabled the prosecution of alcohol-smuggling criminals during Prohibition. The couple's work also saved lives and helped capture spies during both world wars. Between the wars, they threw elaborate code-breaking parties. Sadly, they also contended with antisemitism, misogyny, and William's mental health issues; nonetheless, the tone overall is compelling and upbeat. Nearly every chapter about this intrepid, intelligent, energetic woman ends with a cliffhanger whose promise is fulfilled in the following one. Elizebeth's life unfolded against a backdrop of some of the 20th century's most pivotal events, and this riveting title is a fine tribute to her accomplishments. Inspiring, informative, and entertaining. (bibliography, notes) (Biography. 12-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from September 20, 2021
    This comprehensive biography centers Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892–1980), one of America’s most important and little-known code breakers, who had a profound impact on WWI and WWII. Greenfield thoroughly covers Friedman’s life, from her repressive childhood; college education; early introduction to codes in a research program run by an eccentric millionaire; marriage to and partnership with brilliant fellow cryptanalyst William Friedman; and varied government career and later life. While coverage of Friedman’s extended professional machinations slows the pace, the book proves strongest as it ably chronicles how her skills developed and homes in on codes and code breaking. Recurring offset feature “Code Breaker” offers fascinating details on the mechanics, such as “Rail Fence Love Letter,” a coded love note; “Solving in Depth,” which highlights Friedman’s work on the famous Nazi Enigma code; and “The Last Word,” which reveals how Friedman even employed a code on her husband’s tombstone. B&w photographs help round out the history, alongside primary sources such as news stories and even Friedman’s own handwritten notes. A captivating account of the life and critical contributions of “one of the most formidable code breakers in the world.” Back matter includes a bibliography and notes. Ages 12–up.

  • Booklist

    October 15, 2021
    Grades 8-10 After graduating from college in 1915, Elizebeth Smith was recruited by a wealthy eccentric to join a team attempting to identify and decrypt secret messages in Shakespeare's First Folio. She enjoyed the challenge of decryption, and soon, as America prepared to enter WWI, she and her future husband, William Friedman, became the government's go-to experts for code breaking. Later, she continued to develop her expertise and train others while working for the Navy, the Coast Guard, the Treasury Department, and other government agencies, gathering evidence on Prohibition-era rumrunners, identifying wartime spies, and decoding enemy secrets. She raised a family while working tirelessly at demanding jobs that remained secret for decades, until relevant documents were declassified. This well-researched volume delves into Elizebeth Smith Friedman's youth, her unconventional route to her profession, her relationship with her supportive spouse, her accomplishments in cryptology, and her sometimes troubling experiences as a twentieth-century woman working in a "man's field." Occasional vintage photos and code-related challenges in sidebars enhance the presentation. An engrossing book for readers intrigued by codes, cyphers, and espionage.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    December 1, 2021

    Gr 8 Up-Most people have likely never heard of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, but she is one of the most prolific code breakers in U.S. history. Often overshadowed by her husband, with whom she worked closely, this biographical account of her life brings her story to young adult readers. From falling into code breaking by landing a job for an eccentric millionaire during a visit to the library to falling in love with a fellow code breaker and working her way through two world wars solving ciphers and more, Smith Friedman's life story is a fascinating one. The book follows a linear time line, from her birth and childhood all the way to how she has been recognized and commended post-humously. Each chapter ends on a cliff-hanger, which helps to make a sometimes slow-paced narrative more engaging. There are also sections that break up the chapters called "Code Breaks," which give more detail on either the subject's work or the ciphers themselves. This narrative is very dense at times, but the level of detail and interesting topic make up for that. The back matter includes a bibliography and notes from each chapter. VERDICT A worthy purchase for secondary school libraries and where there are gaps in historical biography sections, especially about women in STEM.-Molly Dettmann, Norman North H.S., OK

    Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Amy Butler Greenfield
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