Monday’s Molls & Mugs – Elizebeth Friedman

Far from being a ganster’s moll, Elizebeth Friedman was the codebreaker who helped to bust them. Elizebeth Friedman is widely known as the first female cryptanalyst. She and her husband William led a team of codebreakers during World War I.

During Prohibition, Elizebeth worked with the federal government to break the rum runners secret codes. In 1925, the United States Coast Guard enlisted Elizebeth to break the sophisticated code system the bootleggers used on shortwave radios. The rumrunners used these codes to relay information about number of barrels and location of the shipments. During her time assisting the government, Elizebeth cracked over 12,000 codes. Her work helped bust a notorious smuggling ring based out of New Orleans. Four of the men arrested were part of infamous gangster Al Capone’s gang.

When Prohibition ended, Elizebeth continued her work as a codebreaker. During World War II, she was able to crack a major Nazi spy ring operating out of South America. In addition, Elizebeth deciphered coded letters sent by Velvalee Dickenson, a spy for the Japanese, which subsequently led to Velvalee’s arrest and conviction as a spy.

Elizebeth and her husband William worked for years as codebreakers. While William Friedman received accolades at the time for his work, it wasn’t until years later that Elizebeth was recognized for her contributions.

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

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