The Women Who Helped America Crack Axis Codes

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Photo: National Security Agency / nsa.gov
Media Outlet: The New York Times

Liza Mundy's book "Code Girls" was reviewed by the New York Times:

In the fall of 1941, mysterious letters appeared in the mailboxes of a select group of young women attending the Seven Sister colleges. Chosen for their aptitude in such subjects as math, English, history, foreign languages and astronomy, the women were invited to meet one-on-one with senior professors. At Wellesley, the students were asked unusual questions: Did they like doing crossword puzzles, and did they have imminent wedding plans?
Those women who gave the right answers — yes, and no — were asked to sign confidentiality agreements and join a hush-hush government project. With war raging in Europe, the United States Navy had been staffing up its cryptanalysis division for several years but this was a new recruiting strategy. The female undergrads were offered campus training in code breaking, with the promise of government civilian jobs in Washington upon graduation.
In the months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, such a patriotic summons became more urgent. Not only did the Navy reach out to women from a wider range of colleges but the Army began ramping up its own rival code-breaking unit. After Army brass were chastised for competing with the Navy for the same female campus talent pool, the Army switched tactics and sought out small-town schoolteachers eager to participate in the war effort and take part in a big-city adventure.

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Liza Mundy is a senior fellow at New America, and the former director of the organization’s Breadwinning and Caregiving program. She is the author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.