Code Girls

Reviewed by Penny Tardona

16 October 2021

Code Girls jacketThe United States is in the throes of World War II and America’s fledgling Intelligence community is struggling to break both the Japanese and the German codes. The Navy and Army began recruiting women to assist in this massive task.

Over 10,000 women were recruited from small southern towns and New England colleges. They also sought out female schoolteachers, specifically those skilled in mathematics. While their men were at war, these women came to Washington DC, swearing strict vows of secrecy to begin learning the complicated task of code breaking.

During this time in America, women were not accepted into Ivy League schools. These institutions of higher learning would have normally been the source to recruit candidates.Men, trained in mathematics were the perfect choice. Unfortunately, these men were already serving in the military. Much like the well-known “Rosie the Riveter” who replaced men in America’s factories, we needed women to help the war effort in code breaking. In this book, you will learn the stories of some of the women who stepped up to the plate and, in some cases, hit the ball out of the park!

For those of us in the field of Cryptology, it’s interesting to read the story of the takeover of the former Mount Vernon Seminary at 3801 Nebraska Avenue, a place near and dear to the heart of each of us who served there. The property became the home of hundreds of young women, most of whom were small town girls. Now they were living in America’s capitol, working six days a week, 12 – 16 hours a day in un-airconditioned offices. If you were ever stationed in Washington D.C. in the summer, you know what that would be like,
especially considering that the barracks didn’t have air conditioning, either.

It’s impossible to tell the story of every woman who contributed to the success of America’s code breaking, but you will learn of three women who were considered the most brilliant of the “Code Girls”: Elizabeth Smith Friedman, Genevieve Grotjan, and Agnes Meyer Driscoll.

Ms. Grotjan (L) / Ms. Driscoll (R)

You will also follow the story of Dot Braden, a feisty Virginia schoolteacher who, in 1943, leapt at the chance to take a mysterious job with the Army at a place called Arlington Hall.

Because of “Code Girls”, the children and grandchildren of Dot and thousands of other women will finally learn the complete story of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ accomplishments.

US Navy women breaking naval codes - WWII

Publishing Information

“Code Girls,” by Liza Mundy, 2007. ISBN 978-0-316-35253-6. The Hachette Book Group, USA. 355 pages.