Throughout history, women have made significant contributions to the CIA. One of the most intriguing examples is that of Virginia Hall (April 6, 1906 - July 14, 1982) – one of America’s most heroic female spies.
Hall – the daughter of a wealthy family in Baltimore, Maryland – wanted to become a United States Foreign Service Officer, but was turned down by the State Department. After studying at Barnard and Radcliffe, she headed to Paris in 1926 to continue her education. In 1931, she was appointed Consular Service Clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. Unfortunately, Hall became ineligible for the Foreign Service when a hunting accident led to the amputation of her lower left leg in 1933. She used a wooden prosthetic leg for the rest of her life.
Hall was residing in Paris when World War II started and immediately joined the Ambulance Service before France fell to the Germans. She managed to evacuate to London and volunteered for Britain’s newly formed Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE was in search of agents to work with the French resistance in logistics, training and sabotage. When Germany seized the remaining lands of France in November 1942, Hall barely escaped to Spain by walking across the snow-covered Pyrenees – no small feat for a woman with a prosthetic leg. She spent the next year working for the SOE in Madrid.
As Hall continued her work, the Nazi secret police were hunting her – searching for the woman they referred to as, “The Limping Lady.” They were determined to stop the woman who established resistance networks, located drop zones for money and weapons and helped escaped POWs travel to safety. The Gestapo’s orders were clear: “She is the most dangerous of all allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”
Hall was able to avoid capture and became one of World War II’s most heroic figures, saving countless lives while working for both the United States and Britain. For her efforts, Virginia Hall was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in September 1945 – the only one awarded to a civilian woman in World War II.
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