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tv   World War II U.S. Navy Women Code Breakers  CSPAN  January 5, 2020 8:45am-10:01am EST

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journalist talks about her book "code girls, request the untold story of the women code breakers of world war ii." she discusses the role of women who were recruited by the u.s. navy to help decipher intelligence codes. her remarks were part of a conference hosted by the national world war ii museum in new orleans. >> the next session is when i can mention earlier. our panelists liza mundy has agreed to expand on her original talk. thank you. to open the session and leave the conversation and q&a after the presentation, we have asked our friend catherine barb e.a., rofessor at the city state university, to lead the
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session. catherine has been involved with our museum for over a ecade and just two months ago, she helped organize a program where we had scholars from around the continent come for a daylong program. catherine's information is in your program. i point out that in addition to being a professor at mississippi state university she is the author of two fine books, one entitled, the battle of kursk and the other, strategy and tactics. ladies and jump in, dr. catherine barbeeand liza mundy. [applause] >> good morning. happy to see all of these nice faces outfront. this is a fantastic event and i'm excited about being part of it. i would like to introduce liza mundy, a journalist and author of four books and you can read her bio the program.
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she is going to talk to us about an amazing book, 'code girls: the untold story of the american women code breakers of world war ii' which i recently read and highly recommend. so i'm looking for to her presentation. [applause] liza: thank you so much, dr. barbier, for that introduction. it is fun to see colleagues from the washington post and rob papers at the marshall museum in lexington who helped me when i was doing research around william and a lisbeth friedman, early american code breakers. it is wonderful to speak to this incredible conference and i'm struck by the sort of dolls and the representation of rosie the riveter, which is the most common image of women and
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their participation during the war. while that was an important contribution to america's military prowess and the allies, we only recently are coming to realize the extent to which women contributed to rainwork during the war. two military intelligence and to the field of intelligence, in general. this talk is not physically originally about women, it is about intelligence. the fact is, because women were not in combat roles in world war ii, they were able to contribute in other ways, intelligence being a significant way in which they contributed. y book is about 10,000 american women who came to washington during the war to do a signals intelligence work. they comprised more than half
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of our code breaking force. so it was a really massive cohort of women who willingly uprooted themselves from their universities and their towns to come to washington. lynn olson's book is such an important contribution to how women contributed to espionage and to the resistance movement. and sarah rose, who will be presenting on saturday has also contributed to that. there's a whole body of scholarship now filling out the story about women's contributions to intelligence and to resistance work. so i would like to start my presentation with a photo i think of as depicting the plight of the college educated woman in 1942. this photo shows that make court at goucher college. the ritual in which graduating senior women are dressed in virginal white and ushered into the marriage market. what you would not know from this photo, after college was a women's college in 1942, it is
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coeducational now. it is what was called a girls school. what you would not know is how unusual these women were who are on this podium. in 1942, only 4% of american women achieved a four-year college degree. the reason for that was that college going was not widespread among the population, male or female. for women, there was a lot of academic real estate sale closed to women. the ivy league for the most part was closed to women. in my home state of virginia, uva held out as long as it could. a lot did not admit women. a lot of families do not think it was worthwhile to educate a daughter, even at those schools
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that would educate them, because the fields of endeavor available to educated women were so narrow. if you are a college educated woman, the only job path lively open to you after graduation would be teaching school. and that is great if you want to be a schoolteacher. but if you want to be an architect or a doctor or a lawyer, or businesswoman, you are going to be shut out of the graduate schools that you would need to attend. and he will be shut out of the professional networks. so a lot of families to the economic alkylation and decided it was not worthwhile coming out of the depression to pay the tuition to send a daughter to a women's college. there were a lot of people who thought higher education was not good for women in the 19th century, there was a doctor at harvard who argued that higher education and women infertile because it swelled their brains at the expense of their wombs. [laughter] so schools like goucher and the seven sisters colleges had been founded to tell to against that. that bias against educating women and to prove that women can do the work, that women
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deserved to be educated. schools like goucher were very rigorous liberal arts colleges. the women had to take latin, greek, physics come a french. they got a very, very thorough education. it was very high-pressure academic environment. at the same time that they were coping with all of this academic pressure, there was also a lot of pressure to get married. because the reason that a family might send a daughter to college but was so she could get a proverbial, mr s degree, to meet and hopefully mary, a man from a neighboring men's school. in the case of the goucher's girl, it would be johns hopkins or the naval academy, and that way and sure her economic and social future, by marrying a man who had good academic prospects are good family standing or both. the women i interviewed who graduated in 1942, and i interviewed a number of them, described enormous economic
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pressure and norma's pressure to get married. and enormous pressure to get married. so you would have rituals at the end of the senior year rituals like that make court civilizing they're being ushered into the marriage market at wellesley college in massachusetts, the yearbook had a section naming the women who were engaged, the name of the man they were engaged to, as well as a section for women who had left college for getting married, in order to-because that was considered an ok thing to do. you would go to college and meet somebody and he would leave before graduation to get married wellesley had a different ritual. the senior class hoop roll. the winner of the contest will be the class first bride. academically motivated women were looking at these pressures in the fall of 1941 and spring of 1942. what i love about the photo is you cannot tell but it
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shows how the world is changing for these women. two of the women on the platform, jaclyn jenkins, closest to the may queen, after the war when she married, her fiancé, who was in a p.o.w. camp on wake island, her name would become jaclyn jenkins night, mother of bill nye the science guy, who many of you now is that well-known science educator and television presenter. that gives a sense of her academic chops. her good friend gwyneth clement are, these two women had been secretly tapped by the u.s. navy to learn and become naval code breakers. they were being ushered into an ancient field of coded languages, which goes back to as long as human beings have been able to speak and write, somebody has had the urge to's
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communicate secretly with 70 else using a code or cipher no one else can understand. julius caesar had a cipher he used come of that was actually not hard to break. this was a field unfamiliar to americans before world war ii and these women were quickly learning how to take frequency counts, how to count how many letters were in a message, understanding letters have a mathematical behavior. the underlying pattern to the number of times letters appear in the ghost language. they are learning how to do this in english and in other languages. it is top secret work that in the case of that goucher girls, they are attending a code breaking course, organized by the u.s. navy. their training once a week in the top of a locked classroom at the top of goucher hall, being trained by an enlist professor at goucher and by an officer of the u.s. navy. this is top secret work. so they cannot tell their
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brothers or their boyfriends or their parents or their roommates other their classmates or any of their friends on that podium that they are being ushered into a completely different future than the one they were being prepared for. the reason those young women have been tapped is, in december of 1941, the attack at pearl harbor was not just the event that propelled america into world war ii, but it was-it exposed our intelligence cap. our lack of intelligence capabilities, the fact that we had not known the attack was coming. it exposed the fact that we did not have much in the way of intelligence gathering in 1941. i'm in the washington, d.c. area, or enough 17 intelligence agencies. we have intelligence agencies that exist to oversee other intelligence agencies. but in 1941 and 1942, we do not have any of that. we do not have the cia yet we did not have the national
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security agency, the nsa. we have to ramp up our intelligence gathering practically overnight. it will take time to build a spy network overseas. the oss will be founded, women will be recruited for the oss, including, famously, julia child. that will take time. what we have to learn to do overnight is to intercept and decipher and decode enemy signals. german signals, japanese signals, from all of the world. politicians, diplomats, military commanders, are ommunicating using codes and ciphers. you heard reference to ultra. i'm sure everyone in this room knows that ultra was the intelligence from the german enigma machine, that the different ranches of the german
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military were using. also the japanese army, japanese navy, japanese diplomats were all using different codes and ciphers. we had to ramp up our ability overnight to do that work and find people who could do that work, so we would not be surprised again the way that we were at pearl harbor, as we are sending so many of our men, practically overnight, into harm's way in the atlantic ocean and the pacific ocean before the war, the navy had a small code breaking bureau it was not a prestigious field in the u.s. navy. if your career officer in the u.s. navy, you want to be commending a ship, on the ocean. you do not want to be in an office back in washington, trying to decipher the japanese naval fleet code. it was not considered an important field of endeavor and the u.s. navy. but there was a small bureau. so the u.s. navy had been in the habit of recruiting young
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men from schools like m.i.t. and harvard who seem to have the sort of minds that would lend themselves to code breaking. all of a sudden, after pearl harbor, those men are unavailable because there shipping out to fight. the u.s. navy had been generating monthly memos, saying where they were finding their potential code breakers to train, what they were learning how to do. you can see, this is from a december, 1941. they are talking about where they are finding their men to learn how to be code breakers. what they are being trained how to do. given the fact that the men are becoming increasingly unavailable, you can see in this memo, the lightbulb moments going on over naval officers had, where are we going to find our thousands of code breakers we are going to need? new source, women's colleges? so the decision was made in the absence of available men, let's see what these educated women can do? let's test their brains and tenacity and see if they can apply their minds to this massive endeavor. as a result of that light bulb moment and the decision to recruit the women, they select bid their math and astronomy professors as well as young women at all the seven sisters
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colleges werecalled in and asked two questions, do you like crossword puzzles and are you engaged to be married? if they answered yes to the first endnote of the second, they would invited -- they would be invited to take this top-secret training course developed by the navy. a lot of the young women were engaged, because there was more pressure to get married as men were shipping out, they wanted some at home waiting for them, but a lot of them lied, because whatever they were being invited to do sounded more interesting than sitting around waiting to see if there brothers and boyfriends were going to be ok. so at the beginning of our entry into world war ii, the division of labor in terms of the code breaking theater was that the british had primary code breaking responsibility for the atlantic. you have heard of altar and the german enigma machine and you knew that alan turing had the breakthrough that enabled the british to break the enigma cipher, that the german --
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suspicious and the german navy changed the design of the nigma machine. there was a bloodily and deadly period when we lost the ability to decipher the german naval cipher and lost a lot of convoys in the atlantic. so britain had been breaking the neck my cipher for some time when we entered the war, so we were the junior partner in the atlantic ocean. that would change. we were engaged in enigma code breaking, but we were the junior partner and it took a while for the two countries to cooperate in that. the british weren't convinced of our ability to keep a secret. so that was the division of labor. but in the pacific ocean, the u.s. had lead code breaking responsibility. and we had just been terribly surprised in the pacific ocean, and the division of labor in the u.s. military services was
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the u.s. navy, the women you saw on the platform, they had lead responsibly -- responsibility for the japanese naval fleet code. it was our navy's responsibility. but the u.s. army had responsibility for code breaking by the japanese army, which is now spread out on all these islands and landmasses around the pacific ocean. so the u.s. army had to figure out, where are we going to get our women? if the navy had approached all these women's colleges and sewn up the northeastern seaboard, where are we going to get our educated minds to work on the japanese army ciphers? the army decided to recruit schoolteachers. this is. -- this is dot braden, from lynchburg, virginia, not far from my hometown of roanoke. she was teaching school in
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1942, eldest daughter in a family of four, mom a single mother, her mother, her parents were separated, her mother was supporting their household and dot's salary of $900 a year was supporting her mother at household, and her two younger brothers were already in the u.s. army. she was overburdened by work and what i love about her story is, it shows how u.s. army recruiting strategy was wrongheaded, even as it orked. the army approach to recruiting schoolteachers whizz to send their handsomest young army officers out to lurk in post offices and hotels throughout the south at first, eventually all over the country, with the idea that schoolteachers would see a handsome, young officer, and think, if i go to washington i can make a marriage to a man who looks like that. so marriage was much on the
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military's mind when it was recruiting these young women to ome to washington. but dot was trying to get out of a marriage that she was not interested in pursuing. her college boyfriend was training in california and sent her an engagement ring through the mail. she liked him fine, but didn't want to spend the rest of her life with him. he was pressuring her to follow him to california to marry him and she didn't want any part of it. when she walked through the doors of the virginia hotel in lynchburg and saw this handsome army officer recruiting young women for top-secret war work in public, the schoolteachers couldn't even know what they were coming to washington to do. she knew this was a respectable way to get out of having to follow her fiancé to california.
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so it was a way to avoid an early engagement she wasn't interested in. i was also an opportunity to make twice as much, almost, as she was making teaching school. it was an opportunity to travel to washington, the heart of the free world in 1943, and was an opera t -- an opportunity to show women could participate in war work and bring home the men she loved and protect their lives. so in 1943, dot braden took a train for the first time her life -- time in her life to washington dc. the arrival of trains was being announced by women's voices for the first time for obvious reasons, the men were off fighting. she took a cab to arlington hall across the river in virginia. before the war it had been what was called a junior college, in the day when women should get some education, but not too
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much. junior colleges were a place affluent families would send their daughters to get a smattering of french and english and math, but also piano, typing, department, horseback riding, skills that were thought to serve them well later in life. the military needed top-secret compounds for the massive code breaking operations that would begin to develop. and they didn't have secure compounds the way we do now in washington, so they kicked the girls out of arlington hall, moved schoolteachers in, and overnight dot braden found herself working in this massive, hot, temporary building with thousands of other schoolteachers, civilian women, taking trash courses in the geography of asia, assembly lines were set up, women receiving a teletype from the pacific, and these were the schoolteachers who very quick
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leak, without benefit of a year-long training course in college, were immersed in breaking the very difficult code and cipher system used by the japanese army, which was being supplied by ship all over the pacific, japanese supplies, reinforcements, food and medicine had to be brought by ships. the ships were using a code system called 2468, the water transport code, and it was a difficult system where a difficult system where word like mario for supply ship would be a four digit code like six to 81. -- 6281. and then other digits would be added in which you didn't carried the one, and schoolteachers had to learn to look at a string of numbers, figure out what the additive had been that was added to the
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number, try to strip it out, reversing the false addition or subtraction and then look at patterns to figure out what the message likely said, and had to learn it as fast as they could, in order that the destination of a ship, what it would be carrying, there was often a noon position message that would say where the ship was going to be at noon the next day. the teachers would have to break those messages as fast as they could, using an assembly line process, in order that the message could be got into an american submarine commander so he would be waiting on the horizon to think that ship. you saw the caption, encil-pushing mamas sank japan, that was a poem code breakers wrote. this was a literate group of people. i'm told that the nsa, the descendent agency of our code breaking, there is still poetry
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writing that goes on in downtime, but the women wrote a poem based on the song of the day, pistol packing mama, with all my to the raven by edgar ellen pao, so is says pencil packing mama sank the ships of japan. there were part of one of the three most successful code breaking successes of world war ii. one was the breaking of the german enigma ciphers in europe, the other was the code breaking triumph in the battle of midway that led us to anticipate the japanese were bound for midway, so we could ambush the ambushers, and the third was the relentless sinking of japanese supply ships using the water transport code. that was enormously important. and when i told dot braden during our interviews how important the code breaking operation was that she was a part of, she had a hard time getting her mind around that.
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nobody told the women, because it was compartmentalized, need to know. they didn't even know what the ultimate result of the code breaking was going to be. they knew they had to do it as ast as they could. if they were higher up the chain, they did know the outcome, sometimes knew when ships or convoys were sunk as a esult of their labors. but she had a hard time grasping her role in the war, because the water transport code was a couple of hundred schoolteachers working that operation and she was one of them. because we are talking about une 1944, another code breaking operation was going on at arlington hall which was important, the breaking of the machine cipher used by japanese diplomats. japanese diplomats were stationed in europe,
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communicating with axis leaders using a completely different cipher system and which long messages they were sending to the foreign office in tokyo were being written down and romanized japanese, to use roman letters, and a machine americans had never seen was ransforming the letters of the message into what looked like gibberish. before the war, the army had a small bureau that was about half women, because the head of the code breaking bureau, william friedman, was married to a code breaker, elizabeth friedman, he was willing to hire women, so they had a breakthrough in september 1940. hey had been working on what was called the purple machine for over a year trying to break the cipher, never having seen the machine that was now installed and japanese
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embassies around the world. there were looking at streams of letters for patterns. the head of the operation said, we had a sense of how the machine was constructed, we didn't know what we were looking for but new we would recognize it when we saw it. so they would sit there day after day, comparing messages hey had just gotten to old messages on file, looking for patterns. they knew the machine had to repeat at some point, that it was using some sort of rotor or wiper that would eventually eturn to its initial position. and it was a woman named genevieve who was sitting one fternoon in the army offices in washington, she saw the pattern, the repetition. she was a university educated woman who wanted to be a math professor. she had not been able to provide -- able to find any university to teach math, math was not considered a women's
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field, so she took the civil service exam and was calculating pensions for railway workers in the late 1930's. she took a math exam to just get a promotion, and william friedman saw her score and recruited her into his code breaking operation. and she was the one who spotted the pattern that allowed the americans to understand how the machine worked, and incredibly, to build a facsimile of a machine they had never seen, so we were able to read every message japanese diplomats were sending to tokyo, providing ncredible intelligence on what was going on in europe. it was one of our best sources of intelligence out of europe, japanese diplomats, who among other things were invited to tour the atlantic wall by itler's. he wanted to show off his fortifications on the coast of france. the japanese diplomats dutifully reported back to tokyo on where the coast of
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france was well fortified and where it wasn't, so when we were planning the d-day invasion, that piece of intelligence told the allies normandy would be better to invade than the coast at calais. so that was the kind of intelligence being produced by these women at arlington hall. they were reading other diplomatic correspondence as well. it gives you a sense of how many women were recruited. there was an african-american code breaking unit hacking codes and ciphers of the private sector, transmissions of banks and companies to make sure nobody was doing business with heckler or mitsubishi. that was a segregated unit because the army was segregated, but they were doing important, unsung work as well. these were former schoolteachers who had gotten their education at historically black colleges and universities, and were recruited to do this work and jumped at the chance to show their patriotism during the war, at a time when maybe they had somewhat less incentive to
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feel patriotic, but obviously did and wanted to contribute to the war effort. with an eye toward june 1944, there were women who were encrypting our own signals, what we would call today cybersecurity. we actually had a machine that you haven't heard of, perhaps the way you have heard of the german enigma shane, because it wasn't -- enigma machine, because it wasn't broken, it was designed so well. and there were women running the machines that would decipher our messages, and also there were women studying our radio traffic, in order to acquire the ability to direct what we call dummy traffic. before the d-day landings, we wanted to convince the germans we were oppose -- we were
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poised to invade in calais. a fictional agency called the first u.s. army was supposed to invade at calais, and the women designed deception traffic sent out to persuade the germans there was an army division that was going to invade in calais, and there was no such entity, but there was convincing traffic that so replicated what allied traffic would look like, it did convince the enemy that there were allied soldiers there. and even after the landing, they had to keep the traffic going so the germans wouldn't move their troops from calais down to normandy, so women were studying our traffic to develop our ability to do that. meanwhile, women you saw in frilly dresses graduating from other schools are actually in the u.s. navy. so the navy capped its force civilian and had a flat organizational structure, which enabled a very young women to be in charge of very important
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code breaking units in the army operation, but the navy wanted its women to be in uniform. this was the tipping point for women joining the military. it was controversial, a lot of admirals didn't want women in the navy. there was arguing over things like uniform color, whether women would be allowed to wear navy blue. at first the women -- the navy wanted the women wearing navy or khaki -- wearing gray or haki, but others said it was very important for the women to look like naval officers. so they won the battle to get the women navy blue, but the women were not permitted gold prayed, they had dusty blue grade -- dusty blue braid, but the women were very eager to join a very proud of the naval service. women who graduated from
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goucher and other schools in 1942 were sent to officer training camp at smith college nd mount holyoke and bryn mawr and they set up officers training camps so they learned how to march, said deck instead of floor, were fitted into uniforms and came back to washington to work at another girls school that had been taken over by the u.s. navy, to do important work in the japanese theater of war and the atlantic as well. you can see the camaraderie of the women working on an assembly line operation using actual conveyor belts, and this was an important coming together for women from all over the country. once the waves were created, it was possible for a young enlisted woman who hadn't been to college, if she tested high for aptitude. she would be routed into the top-secret code breaking operation as well. women ended up writing troop train was from oklahoma,
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california, colorado, to join the code breaking effort. one of my favorite anecdotes, one of the women i interviewed who came from a very affluent family on the upper east side, her parents did not want her to join the waves. t was very scandalous at first for women joining the military. there were rumormongering campaigns that the women were basically prostitutes and that was why they were going into service. so some families were resistant, but this woman, jane topsail, took the subway from the upper east side of manhattan to enable recruiting station on wall street. she was very nearsighted and knew she would have to pass an eye exam, so she memorized the eye chart and was able to slip her spectacles into her pocket and pass the eye exam, but she didn't know there was going to be a bunch of other physical exams, including a naked group physical which men had to undergo. the navy wasn't quite sure yet had a -- yet how to handle the
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women so the women were inflicted with that as well, so he disrobed in a petty officer drew the number nine between er breasts and she said, stand between eight and she was so nearsighted, she had to really get up close to the other women and peer in order to figure out where to stand, which was shocking to her but she remembers it very fondly now. it is one of her more hilarious anecdotes, and she had a lot. but her other great surprise was that although she had come rom a very affluent family and had been to a classy girls school and going to music school in boston, that wasn't considered a college degree, so she did not enter as an officer, she entered as an enlisted woman, and ordinary seamen. she lived in the barracks and it was a great experience of her life. her first bunkmate was a woman
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from the midwest was father was an undertaker, he gave his daughter a christmas present that was a music box in the shape of the casket, her introduction to decorating schemes she had not encountered on the upper eastside. it was a refreshing change from debutante society of new york, which she found oppressive. she was not happy about the reason she was being offered this opportunity, but it was the great experience of her life. you can see these women and their, roderick -- and their camaraderie as they come together to do this important work. in the pacific in june 1944, these are japanese naval messages these women are working, the stacks of messages. they received memos as we are pushing across the pacific and engaging in dangerous battles, and they would know something was going to happen, they would get memos, prioritize the most important messages, cover additives as quickly as they
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could. they had quotas. i found these memos in the national archives, as well as memos congratulating them for meeting and exceeding quotas. so they were working under enormous pressure. they knew the lives of their brothers and boyfriends and other men were at stake. it was very stressful work for them. you can see they were doing it all with pencil and paper. this is a worksheet to decrypt the japanese naval fleet code, a five-digit and siefert system. they had to track down the additive to get down to a code group. what you see in pencil are the actual code groups. they knew they had gotten to a valid code group if it was divisible by three, because one way in which the japanese would ensure their messages had transmitted properly, if the code group was divisible by three it was a valid message that had not been garbled by radio transmission.
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the women to look for that. they remember -- the women knew to look for that. they remembered how to do it 75 years later, striking out the threes and sixes and nines and the number would be divisible by three, they taught me that math. other systems were being used by the japanese, something called the interisland cipher, a table that was scrambling japanese. women from wellesley were assigned to this cipher. remember these women, living on chaperone for the first time in their lives -- living unchaperoned for the first time in their lives, a lot of alcohol washing around washington to relieve the stress of the war, so the women would have parties. the women working the interisland cipher, the cipher had a key that changed every month. they would go to their
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commanding officer and ask when they could have a party and he would say, two weeks before the key changes, because you will have two weeks to recover from your hangovers before you have to do the work to break back into the changing key system. but that group of women was instrumental in breaking messages that foretold the itinerary of admiral yamamoto's plane in 1940 three, messages from the japanese naval fleet code and the interisland cipher that provided the itinerary of his plane. the decision was made to shoot his plane out of the air, regarded as the ultimate payback for pearl harbor. he was commander of the japanese fleet and mastermind of pearl harbor. the women remember tearing went up in the code breaking compound when they found the plane had been shot down. it was a top-secret operation. the american public could not know that was how we knew where his plane was, but code breakers new -- knew, and were very satisfied when they knew
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that their work led to the sinking of a convoy or the downing of a plane. even as they were having parties and their rare off-hours, they were very serious about their work. with an eye toward d-day, we took over most of the atlantic ocean code breaking from the british. it was necessary to build larger, faster machines that could work the more complex enigma machine being used by the german navy. america had the industrial might to do it. to these big machines were designed and built in dayton, ohio, and transported to washington to break the message is used to direct the movements of the u-boats. it was ultimately women looking at german messages transformed by the enigma machine. they were conjecturing what was in the messages, if it was a weather message from the bay of biscay, the word wetter would likely appear, and they figured
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out how the german machine transformed that message into the gibberish they saw. they would test the messages by plugging the information into these machines. so midnight june 6, this group of women were reading message traffic as the germans were reacting to the d-day landings, so they were experiencing the landings from the point of view of the germans who were talking about it through enigma messages. and that was a profound and moving experience for those women, to feel they were part of the landing as they were working the midnight watch in washington. they mow -- they wrote moving emoirs about it afterward. to give you a sense of their private lives as they were doing this work, they were writing a lot of letters to gis overseas. my central character dot braden
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at one point was writing half a dozen men at the same time, that was common. she was reluctant to have that go into the book more than the fact of her top secret code breaking service, but she disentangled herself from the unwanted fiancé, and managed to marry an american airman with whom she had been corresponding. she had known him before the war but he was in her boyfriend, but they became omantic during their correspondence and became engaged during the course of their correspondence without even seeing or meeting each other, they made plans to get married, they had a very happy arriage. and the women sent a lot of photos in their letters, today we would call selfies, to show these younger, tech crowds, to show them that there is nothing new under the sun. the women were sending a lot of snapshots of themselves. i love the flirtatious look in
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dot's i, she sent that to jim. after the war, the women were told, thank you for your service, time to go home. there were actually government propaganda newsreels that you promised this was going to be temporary, thanks very much, don't tell anybody what you did, keep telling them you were a secretary, that's what the women were told to say. the women for the most part did, although some of these women would go on to become cold war code breakers with the nsa. most of the women went home and dispersed, no longer had the camaraderie of the operation, but this group of women stayed friends. they missed each other a lot, now in little apartments having babies and raising families, so they started something i had never heard of, a round-robin letter, in which one woman would write a letter, send it
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to the next, that woman sent those letters to the third and it would make its way around the group. she would replace her original letter and then it would keep going, and the round robin letter cap going up until the election of barack obama, hurricane sandy, the vietnam war before that, the entirety of their lives these women wrote each other, until i was doing the interview, the woman in the striped shirt, ruth, was writing to the one surviving woman, and they were writing each other every day. that is how important the service was to these women, when she would email me h.e.r. email address, and it was ruth the wave -- email me her email address, and it was ruth the ave. her naval identity was important to her. i interviewed 20 women while i as writing my book, as well as
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research at the national archives and getting records declassified, and you can briefly hear their voices and talking about the work. the first is dot, describing her train ride to ashington. >> i packed two suitcases, my umbrella and my raincoat. i went down to the train. my uncle had to take me, no car, and my uncle -- and my mother and my sister were standing there crying when i got on the train. i was very secure everything was going to be just fine, washington would receive me with open arms. ms. mundy: and when she got to washington, they didn't have a place for her to stay, and was told she would be shot if she
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told anyone what she was doing in the war. the next woman, betty, also became engaged during the war to a man she had never met, and she was working on machines that were breaking the german enigma ciphers. she gives you a sense of the thanks women did or did not get. >> we broke the code in august 1943, and everybody said, what did they tell you? i said, nothing. all that commander mere announced one night was, good job, girls. and that is all they said. ms. mundy: the last woman, dorothy, wanted to be a math teacher, was in teachers college, an ambitious aspiration. even high schools often didn't hire women as math teachers in 1941, and she can provide you with an understanding of why
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the women were motivated to do this work, as she described watching male classmates being hipped off to war. >> it was at 2:00 in the morning that the army sent a bus. it seemed that there were no men left, they all had to go, i think to pittsburgh. ince i was taking mathematics, was one of two girls, and i
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knew some of the fellows that ere going on that bus. i will never forget it. ms. mundy: she had tears in her eyes describing that moment, more than 70 years after she had seen that read what i love about dorothy is that she did become a math teacher after the war. she would end up teaching math at the same public middle school in arlington, virginia, that my own children would later attend. that is how few degrees of separation there are between us and women who did this work. i love the thought of middle schoolers taking her algebra class, having no idea that this kind, sweet woman who many would remember as the best math teacher they had had been a truly badass code breaker during world war ii. she was so good the navy would eventually lure her from the
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army, so she went from making the water transport code to the japanese fleet code, and she was able to make an extra $50 a month and by her first car using that officers' housing allowance. it was extraordinary to talk to these women and hear their recollections of the math they did to break the code systems. 10,000 women did this work and have gotten no credit at all. i think of them as hidden figures of the greatest generation, and i hope with the flowering of scholarship, lynn olson's work of women in espionage, sara rose's work of the d-day girls, that we appreciate that women didn't just contribute in the home front and in factories, but really helped pioneer the stem field, pioneered intelligence gathering, and it is great to be part of a flowering of scholarship around women's
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contributions. so thank you. [applause] >> i would like to reiterate what liza said about lynn olson's book about the french resistance. the stories she tells are important, and have informed my esearch, so i encourage you to get her book and read it. now we can have a conversation. >> we will start to your left ear, please. -- your left here, please. >> thank you for that amazing presentation. i came into the navy in 1968,
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and we were very much educated on what women before us had done, and how important it was, but it certainly is an untold story. i am interested in hearing what the women, when they were allowed to talk about their xperiences much later, how the women excepted or didn't accept their veteran status. i know that it's a big problem when you ask women of that era, are you a veteran they say, no, i'm not a veteran. can you comment? ms. mundy: women working for the army code breaking operation were mostly civilians, although there were some wacs, so those women didn't get g.i. benefits, but the navy women did get ti benefits after the war. so some of the enlisted women went to college.
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there were also male college professors who didn't qualify because of their age for the fighting, who worked in code breaking, and some were important mentors to the women, who went on to get their phd's as a result of this college-like campus that they were on. but there were also women unable to use their g.i. benefits because they were once again shut out from graduate schools. one of the women in the naval operation had been tapped by grace hopper, now well-known for designing the navy's mark computers, or programming them, and she was a teacher at vassar she tapped this woman who became part of the naval code breaking operation, and she wanted to become an architecture after the war. she applied to architect schools unqualified for g.i. benefits, but all of the schools she applied to said, we are holding the spots open for returning men. of course returning men needed
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and deserved jobs and training, but she said, i was in the u.s. navy as well, and what she got was a sorry, we are still holding the spots open for the men. she wasn't able to tell them that her work had sunk an entire japanese convoy, so she wasn't able to get credit, was unable to use the benefits, but ended up teaching herself computer programming and directed the computer science department at the university of cincinnati. that is how smart these women were, and their ability to avail themselves of g.i. benefits was spotty. but some ended up as lieutenant, and some outranked their husbands after the war, and were able to rate -- able to trade on that maritally when hey needed to.
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>> as you were speaking i realized my high school math teacher was a marine during world war ii. i was wondering, did marines also use women as code breakers? it occurred to me that maybe she was one. ms. mundy: yes, the marines did use women. one anecdote i have heard, i don't know if it is true, they had anachronism, navy women were waves, army women were wacs, navy women flying planes were wasps, and someone asked what should women marines be called? the commander thought about it and said, they are marines. >> is there some way to research to find out if she was? ms. mundy: i have on my webpage,, a link to show how you can get personnel records, anybody can
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use it, and you could access her military personnel records. >> i think it would make a good story in my hometown. >> i know when we write, we are frequently limited on what we can include, only so many words, so are there any stories you found interesting that didn't make it into your book? ms. mundy: those were often stories i found after the book was published, a great surprise about how many families i heard from whose mothers had done this work. they sort of talked about it, but not always, and i also heard from 20 more women who had been code breakers. i have and afterward in the paperback, sharing some of these stories, and my favorite is when a man named norman torque olson -- norman torkelson told me that he and his mom and dad were watching a 60 minutes report on the battle
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f the coral sea and the code breaking that preceded the engagement. on the tv they were talking about world war ii code breaking and his mom said, well, everybody, i guess i can finally tell you what i did during the war. [laughter] and when the son said what, his father said, mom was a secretary. and she said no, i wasn't. i worked that japanese navy code system, my girls and i broke that code system, and she stood up and high-fived everybody in the room. [laughter] [applause] there was also a moment in the cryptologic museum in fort meade, maryland, where they have a replica of the purple machine. a man remembered going there
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with his parents and his mother looked at it and, she wouldn't even believe the story had gotten out of that the machine was being shown, and she said, i worked that purple system. at her husband, who had been in the pacific theater said, you worked purple? i worked purple. they had been part of the same code breaking chain, and they had not known. >> in the front, to your left, please. >> i know there were women code breakers in bletchley park as well. de novo the relationship between code breaking in arlington park and bletchley park? ms. mundy: there were female code breakers at bletchley park and they have been more honored than women in the u.s., in part because there is a bletchley park that you can visit, and it is very hallowed ground. so the women themselves didn't eally have a relationship with
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each other, for the most part, although some of the women in the u.s. remember speaking to british counterpart. one woman told her son she had a counterpart she would speak to. we would have to break the key of the enigma every couple of days. the key would change that controlled the arrangement of the rotors and other parts on the german machine, so we would work together, british and americans, every couple of days, to figure out the key setting. one of the women code breakers remembered she had a male counterpart that she spoke to over a secure phone line every couple of days. and all she said that her code name for him was pretty weather, and his codename was virgin sturgeon, but she never met him. that was a woman communicating with a man. i don't think the women communicated much between the two countries. >> i think it is something to explore even further. there have been a couple of books recently about nazi code breaking and australian code
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breaking. i just got the one on australian code breaking and afflict -- and flipped through chapter headings, and there is a chapter on women. but it is a story just starting to unfold as we get more information about what various countries were doing on the code breaking front. i think there will be interesting stuff coming forward. >> to your right, in the back police -- in the back, please. >> thank you for such a fascinating story. what got you started on writing this? ms. mundy: i read a declassified document about our efforts to break russian codes during the war. we obviously weren't supposed to be doing that, the russians were our allies, but we did. there was a group of women recruited to come to washington and they would end up worshiping -- and up working the russian systems. those documents were declassified around the venona
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project during the cold war to identify americans and allies who were spying for the russians. so this was declassified and it was called to my attention. this document, written by an nsa historian, mentioned a lot of the women were teachers from virginia who ended up working the russian system, and i was intrigued, i'm from southwest virginia. maybe a lot of you can identify, if you come from a rural part of the country, particularly in the south, people may think you are not that smart or uneducated, so the idea that there were these very literate, well-educated teachers who managed to pivot and do something different and work russian systems was so intriguing to me, coming from that neck of the woods myself. so i went to the nsa and talked
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to a couple of historians and a curator at the national cryptologic museum. they happened to both be women, and it was as though they had been waiting for somebody to come along who was interested in the story. they told me about much larger recruiting efforts to break the japanese and german systems. they sat with me for two hours. i didn't know anything about code breaking. it's embarrassing to look back at my questions, purple, what? anyway, they spent two hours with me and i had to figure out after that conversation if it was doable to find women who had done the work and would talk about it, and then if it would be doable to verify their recollections. peaking of research, you can't go on hearsay and memory from 70 years ago. what was surprising once i'd ovi into the boxes at the national archives in maryland and started getting records
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declassified, is how much documentation there was of the women's contribution. i was able to verify every memory the women had, get personnel records, like this thing about code groups being divisible by three, they remembered these noon position messages, dot remembered the overlaper station, they would overlap messages to look at patterns. and when i went into the paper record, all those memories were documented. it was a multi-year journey to try to do it, and i'm grateful to the museum and other places that helped a lot. > to your left, knew the front. >> i wanted to give it plug to your book. it is part of the masters program put on by the museum at arizona state. it's a wonderful book. my question relates to the civilian sector, the african-american unit.
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what discoveries did they learn from companies helping hitler's? ms. mundy: great question, their work is not well document. i have a request in with the nsa to get underlying interviews that were done. the nsa published a small pamphlet on african-american code breaking, but mostly to do with their work after the war. but there were underlying interviews and documents that led to the publication of that pamphlet. i have a foia request to get more information. i don't know as much about the code breaking of the private sector. i would love to be able to answer those questions as well. >> ladies, to your far-right, near the front. >> two questions. one, did the army and navy exchange information from breaking codes. second, if you break a japanese code and can't read japanese,
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what good is it? ms. mundy: the navy and army were very competitive about code breaking and competed to recruit women. they got to steady child or. i came upon --they k -- they got pissed at each other. i came upon a memo. they raced to break the purple system. once the purple system was broken, the navy had had some breakthroughs and the army had summoned the division of labor was such that the navy got even days code breaking purple, the nav -- the army got odd days, and they would argue about whether it was the day it was sent or they was arriving, even or odd, and they would sometimes raced to get the intelligence to the pentagon. so there was a lot of intel -- there was a lot of competition and there was working together
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as well. had regular meetings between the two. one was on nebraska avenue in washington, that was naval code breaking it is now the department of homeland security. arlington hall was in arlington across the potomac. so there was cooperation and competition and i think that was actually fertile. when the army was trying to break the water command code, they were very aware the navy ad broken the japanese naval fleet code, so the navy was ahead of them in the pacific. that was an incentive, it was chagrinning, but was an incentive. to question about the women, some of the messages really didn't need to be translated. if it was a numerical message like the worksheet i showed you, you could translate those messages into english, if it stood for supply ship.
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but the machine ciphers coming out in romanized japanese, you did need people who understood japanese to translate those, and you needed people who understood german to translate enigma messages. they would snap up anybody who majored in german in college, or people who do japanese. some of them were women who had graduated from bible colleges and had become missionaries, because that was the other respectable occupation for a college-educated woman, missionary. a young woman named virginia knew japanese because she had been a missionary, and she read the japanese surrender message before everyone did beat it -- everyone did, because she was a translator working that japanese system. >> i read your book as part of the asu program as well, and was interested in the
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background of the people we are aware of involved in co-breaking, -- in code breaking, like stanford and so forth. ould you give us a little of the context? ms. mundy: thank you for mentioning that. an important female pioneer was agnes driscoll, a texas schoolteacher who joined the navy during world war i. there was a brief period when women were recruited into the navy during world war i, she joined, then the women were discharged after world war i. actually able actually a law was written to bar women from the navy. but she came back to work as a civilian in the u.s. navy and during the 1930's it was agnes driscoll who broke the japanese fleet code, meaning she figured out how it worked, the five digits, adding of another five digits using a non-carrying
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addition so that we would have to subtract those numbers out. that is one way codes are broken, and when somebody diagnoses just how it works, and then there is the daily breaking of messages. that was done by agnes driscoll at a time when most male officers did not want to do this non-prestigious work that was not good for your career. as a civilian, she was in washington looking at a japanese codebook that we had captured from the embassy, i think in new york, that helped her figure that out. she ultimately drained rocheford and safford, people who revered her talents and to remember her in their mamas for the worksheet -- in their memoirs for the work she had done, they called he was shouldered out during he war, older by that point, ad been in a car accident, and he couldn't join the waves
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because she was too old. so she got crowded out but was instrumental in figuring how the japanese naval fleet code worked and therefore responsible for our victory at the battle of midway, because our code breaking helped us know where the japanese were headed, and she trained the guys in the pacific. >> sometimes there are mistakes in transmissions, so the messages are garbled. so it is figuring out whether it is an accurate message or not, because it adds to the complication of trying to figure out what that pattern is. ms. mundy: exactly. so there would be certain tricks the person sending the codes would put in, and it was divisible by three because that was a jack -- that was a check the japanese were inserting. sometimes the checks would help the code breakers, but there was a lot of gargling.
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there is a lot of guessing and onjecture in code breaking and that there is a lot of dealing with gargling. > people figuring out -- people good at figuring out those garbled would be tasked with taking the messages nobody else could break, because they couldn't figure out the pattern. another author in his book talked about that, because that was is job, to figure out messages that had been garbled. ms. mundy: somebody who had a knack for that aspect of code breaking would be assigned that. they were assembly lines modeled after american industrial assembly lines. >> i am a member of the masters program and recently read your boo, which i enjoyed. thank you. there was a story -- your book, which i enjoyed. thank you. there was a story of a code breaker being honore hunter's son was present.
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toward the end of the book you mentioned one of the code breakers being honored by the military, and her son was present. i was hoping you could share that. >> at the ceremony, toward the end of your book you recount a ceremony. ms. mundy: yeah, that was for the woman who was pretty whether -- pretty weather. she married a naval officer and settled in charleston, south arolina. her son was impressed with his mother's service and was not able to get much out of her beyond a few anecdotes, although he did remember she belonged to something called the low country cocktail club. and he would drive her in her later years to her cocktail
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club meetings and he would say, how do we get there? she would start with the address and work backwards, and that is what you often had to do with the message, start with the message and work backwards. but he was able, working with the veterans group, torquing a's -- to orchestrate a surprise ceremony honoring her later in life. she didn't know it was going to happen. he brought her to this big naval ceremony and there were talking about the person they were honoring and it finally occurred to her that it was her. they saluted her and honored her for her service and contributions, and he was also a naval officer auntie got up and said, mom, as an american i thank you, as a fellow naval officer i salute you, and as a son i love you and him so proud of you. it was a remarkable moment in which he got to honor her for her service.
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that was another aspect that was so moving, the pride these families take in their women and their service. [applause] >> this is american history tc on c-span 3 where each weekend we feature 48 hurs of programs exploring our nation's past. >> hi, everyone i'm a 2018 c-span student cam winner. i'm here to encourage you to continue to wrap up this competition as the deadline is getting close. don't worry you still have
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time. this is about the time i started filming my documentary the first year i entered it. i'm in the d.c. offices and i'm going to tell you that it was an incredible opportunity for me to express my thoughts and my views about the political climate and the current day, as well as connect to some locals and state leaders in political office. i'm extremely excited that you all are interested and pursuing this because it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. >> there's still time for you to enter the student cam video competition. you have until january 20 to create a w5-6 minute documentary that explores an issue you want the presidential candidates to address. we're giving away a total of $100,000 in cash prizes, a grand prize of $5,000. for more information go to our website student
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>> this event was part of the historical parks small battles, big resorts -- big results symposium. >> as i mentioned, i lived in the chattanooga area for about eight, nine years, and ringgold gap is 17 miles south down interstate 75. i got very interested in that battle. i also got very interested in what became, who became one of my favorite civil war generals who turned out to be not from one of those northeastern states. patrick cleburne, from arkansas. i got very interested in the battle of ringgold gap. i want to start, november 27,


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