WW1 and WW2 Women in Cryptography

Discover the women pioneering Cryptography during WWI and WWII

According to the National Cryptologic Museum Foundation, “Over 11,000 women comprised more than 70% of all domestic code breakers during WWII.” Despite this staggering statistic, there is sparse information about their careers.

It was not until 2017 that two journalists published these women’s stories in rapid succession.

Their stories inspired us to further research the legacies and contributions of pioneering women in cryptography. We scoured digital archives to look into the accomplished careers of these women.

While fields of cryptography and computer science are male dominated, the accomplishments of these women remind us that women are exceptionally capable and have historically been pioneers in this ever-evolving field. Our hope is that you not only are able to celebrate the remarkable achievements of these women but that this research also inspires you to similar excellence.

  • Explore a timeline of the legacies and contributions of pioneering women in cryptography during WWI and WWII.
  • Then, read the biographies below the timeline of five select women.

Biographies of select pioneers

1885 - 1963

Historian Dr. David Kahn briefly mentions Genevieve Hitt’s contributions to cryptography in his 1967 chronicle, The Codebreakers - The Story of Secret Writing, known as the most comprehensive text of cryptography history. Khan’s book, however, focuses primarily on Hitt's husband, Colonel Parker Hitt, a pioneer in cryptography. It was not until 2012 that historian Dr. Betsy Smoot brought Hitt out from behind the shadow of her husband’s career.

1889 - 1971

Agnes Meyer Driscoll, Miss Aggie or Madame X, known for her commanding presence and sharp wit, was born in 1889 in Geneseo, Illinois. Her father, a professor at Otterbein College, put an emphasis on academics and learning throughout her childhood. Driscoll initially studied at Otterbein and in 1911, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ohio State University, studying mathematics, physics, foreign languages, and music. 


Elizebeth Friedman is perhaps the most prolific woman cryptographer of the early modern era. Born in 1892 in Huntington, Indiana she is often titled “America's first female cryptanalyst.” As one of ten children, Elizebeth was one of the only members of her family to attend college. She studied at Wooster College in Ohio and graduated from Hillsdale College in Michigan majoring in English literature as well as studying several languages including German, which came in handy during WWII.


Wilma Zimmerman Davis was born in 1912 in Beachbottom, West Virginia. Like cryptographer Iris Carr, Davis attended college to become a high school math teacher. However, her career path changed when she became captivated by the work of eminent codebreakers William and Elizabeth Friedman.


Ann Zeilinger Caracristi was born on February 1, 1921, in Bronxville, New York. In 1942, she graduated from Russell Sage College, a women’s college in Troy, New York, as an English and History major. Even though she had no formal mathematics education the Dean of Russell Sage College recommended Caracristi to the Army Signal Intelligence Service.

Explore Cybersecurity HERstory

Get a small taste of twentieth century cryptography.

Try Solving a Cryptogram

Find definitions, a bibliography, and our interns' reflections.

Resources & Reflections