Archive for the ‘First in Her Class’ Category

Definitely not a spy, but this monarch held an even better title, one of “Spymistress”.

Americans tend to have this idea about England, where the country seems to preternaturally have its act together, however, not many Yanks know that at one time, The Great Empire once existed in a state of near chaos.

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) was the second daughter of the notorious King Henry the VIII, the chap who had a penchant for food and executing his wives, and the only child of Anne Boleyn, the King’s second wife who had her head lobbed off when Elizabeth was but a toddler.

Tons of intrigue and no small amount of scandal later, Elizabeth ascended to the throne at the age of twenty-five. She inherited a country with a warring feudal system, a slew of relatives who would possibly like to see her dead, a state of enmity with the Catholic Church that definitely wanted to see her dead, poor relations with neighboring countries, and empty coffers (i.e. England was close to being broke if it wasn’t already). The country, quite simply, was a mess.

Enter Elizabeth, young, beautiful, female, single. We all the know the story: the young queen must marry appropriately, secure a male child, which in turn secures the line of ascension, and preferably said marriage should be with either a Spaniard or a Frenchman so at least one of those countries would be off England’s back.

However, Good Queen Bess wasn’t having it. Whether it was the sterling example of her father, the rumored romance with a certain Lord Robert Dudley, the rumors of her being a man, or whatever, Elizabeth married herself to England and blazed forth what would be known as England’s Golden Age.

And the Golden Age really came about because QBI was exceptionally good at threat management and maintaining stability. Forces within France and Spain saw England as weak while forces within her country saw her as weak.  Ireland and the Catholic Church quite simply saw the queen as a threat to salvation and agreed she had to go. The task at hand, holding  England together, was a lot like juggling and Elizabeth certainly had a lot of balls in the air. She wielded the very idea of marriage like a tool of both domestic and foreign policy. She brought some semblance of organization to the Anglican church by firmly aligning it to the Protestantism. And she certainly kept close tabs on her foes through her excellent appointment of advisers.

Elizabeth’s inner circle helped her manage both domestic threats and threats from abroad. William Cecil, Baron of Burghley ran a tight financial ship and was responsible for bringing Sir Frances Walsingham, the father of modern-day intelligence practices, to the queen’s court.

With Walsingham in place, the queen was able to acquire the necessary domestic and foreign intelligence for decision-making. Walsingham infiltrated the Spanish military, secured the evidence for the execution of Elizabeth’s greatest rival, Mary Queen of Scots, and foiled any number of plots instituted by nasties within the realm.

All the while, Elizabeth and Walsingham had quite a contentious relationship. He was plain-spoken to the point of being blunt, a literal man of action, and while she had her hide to protect, Walsingham on more than one occasion offended her royal sensibilities.  But he did his job and did it well. It’s very hard to dislike a man who saves your neck day-in to day-out.

All this risk management allowed the queen to enjoy nearly a half-century on the throne. Quite a feat considering that at the end, Elizabeth died an unmarried woman, England’s future secured and a smooth transition of power to King James VI.

George Washington often stands out as the historical figure who best managed the spy trade, but he certainly never had to deal with the level of difficulty, treachery, nor had as many enemies painting targets on his back as Elizabeth had. Under close scrutiny, Elizabeth’s reign was not a rousing success, but in an era where it was exceptionally easy to die on the throne, managing to keep your enemies at bay for 45 years certainly says something about a dame’s, pardon me, queen’s acumen.


I could be really teed off at this broad for dashing my hopes of what I thought would be a kick-ass thesis by accomplishing it first, but I am too in awe of her massive mental abilities, and as such, have decided to profile her instead.

Judee-doll was born in Ames, Iowa in 1948. A fairly normal upbringing ensued and resulted in classic mid-western dame. Judee attended Iowa State University where she earned a degree in both Speech and English minored in both Social Studies and Education. She quickly went on to earn a Masters in Speech Communication and a PhD two years later in Communication and Educational Psychology.

So let’s tally this up before proceeding:

  • Speech: verbal communication
  • English: written communication
  • Social Studies: ability to learn about people in context
  • Education: ability to teach people
  • Communication: a hefty blend of all of the above
  • Speech Communication: a further blend of speaking about all of the above
  • Educational Psychology: how people learn in educational settings

I’m not going to lie here: I expected her head to be size of mutant watermelon. I mean really, that is a heck of a lot of knowledge for one brain in such a short amount of time, but I Googled her and her head seems well-sized. So let’s continue:

Judee bounced around academia teaching in Florida, New York, Michigan and finally settling in Arizona where she is firmly installed a the University of Arizona. Her teaching and research interests according to her website read:

My primary teaching and research interests center on nonverbal and relational communication, with emphasis on such interpersonal communication processes and outcomes as expectancy violations, deception, nonverbal relational messages, conversation involvement and dominance, and dyadic adaptation patterns. I also have a subsidiary interest in mass media uses and evaluations.”

So you might be asking yourself:  Why does this dame deserve a post on this site? Simple, because she performed research  in something that I predict will become massively important in years to come: automated detection of deception

Long story short, aside from the usual verbal and non-verbal cues people provide when trying to deceive, Judee and her team developed a tool called “Agent 99” (named after the female Get Smart characterlove it!) that can detect (not always but there’s always room for improvement) deception in text messages.

Wow, wow, and more wow. In a world where Twitter informs the public of a major revolt inside a seemingly closed society, or is used as a tool of communication and deception in a government experiment, or is used to proffer information during a natural disaster , sound decisions making is going to depend on the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, the noise from the signal, the mayo from the baloney. So this Agent 99 tool? Pretty damn useful.

And Judee exemplifies what I love most about women and their contributions to Intel: they come from where you least expect it.

This, of course, still means I am stuck in search of a thesis topic…

If I were a praying girl, I would be screaming “Amen and Hallelujah” from the rooftops today over the confirmation of Letitia Long as the new Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. But since I am not, let’s just discuss Long instead.

But if I may, can I comment on the fact that there are 16 Intelligence agencies in this country and we are only just now appointing a woman as the head of one? Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch, but it’s still akin to waking up today and feeling like it’s 1990 and not 2010. Baby, you’ve come a long way, but not long enough…

So who is Letitia Long? She is a longtime Navy-civilian professional entering the trade in 1978, where she worked in project engineering in the area of submarine acoustics, and climbed the ranks to join the Office of Naval Intelligence where she managed R & D programs.

From there, Long performed a dizzying rotation in the Senior Intelligence Executive Service while also serving as Director of Resource Management for the Office of Naval Intelligence in 1994. She then completed a hat trick by joining the Defense Intelligence Agency during this time where she eventually became the Deputy Director of Information Systems and Services in 1996.

Can you say “dayamm”? I’m tired just typing all of that.

Please let this be a lesson to everyone out there who is stuck in the belief that Intelligence revolves around poli-sci, history, and computer science. Long is a trained engineer. And let’s think about that: it involves design (establishing a requirement and refining it); building (collection, exploitation); testing (production), roll-out (dissemination); and checking (feedback when it’s given).

Engineers work in teams; they are often great collaborators. They require project engineers to manage them; someone to juggle the pieces and keep in mind the bigger picture. They require communication skills to dumb-down the technical terms for non-engineers (read: clients). And most importantly, they require sound, logical thinking lest the whole contraption falls apart.

A person who can accomplish honing all of those skills is a golden egg and it looks like NGA just got theirs.

Millicent Jessie Eleanor Bagot (1907-2006) could smell a rat at twenty paces and had an illustrious career as one of the UK’s premier spy hunters and what we now call Whistleblowers.

The last decade has been full of Dame Whistleblowers so we should pay particular attention to the woman who made a career of sniffing out the phonies amongst us.

Bagot began her life as the daughter of a solicitor, raised by a French governess, and was later educated at Oxford’s Lady Margaret Hall where she studied the Classics. Bagot went to work for the special branch of the Metro police and later moved on to England’s Ministry of Defense working for both MI5 and MI6. This is slim pickings for developing a profile of Millie, and maybe her early life wasn’t as interesting as her career, but it sure would be great to know what made this lady tick.

Bagot the career lady, however, was a lad’s worst nightmare back in the day: a competent female taskmaster with an opinion and a voice. Apparently someone had the good sense to think that such traits recommended her and so Bagot began to move up the ranks.

Bagot specialized in Communism and was a well-regarded Sovietologist. She was the first to warn Intel community that notorious MI6 English double-agent, Kim Philby, was a member of the communist party and not who he appeared to be. She was ignored, of course, but despite Philby’s escape to Moscow in 1963, I hope Millie felt some small measure of satisfaction in knowing she was right.

Bagot was the first woman to reach the rank of Assistant Secretary at MI5. She received the MBE in 1949 for service and later advanced to CBE in 1967 at her retirement. Famed director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, even wrote to Millicent expressing his admiration.

However, even in retirement, Bagot did not call it a day. With her exceptional memory and famed ability at finding patterns in massive amounts of information, she continued working part-time sniffing out active spies and also writing what some call the definitive account of the Zinoviev Affair.

Millicent finally called it quits in 1976, after a debilitating stroke claimed her prized memory and left her infirmed for the rest of her life. A sad and drawn-out end for such an amazing woman with a truly brilliant career.

countessmarkieviczandchildrenConstance Gore-Booth (1868-1927) daughter of the famous Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth, made a name for herself by jigging her way out of her father’s shadow and becoming the Matriarch of Irish female insurrectionists.

Constance was born in London to a famous father who owned a large estate in County Sligo Ireland. Sir Henry was an odd-duck for his time as he was compassionate to the plight of the Irish during the worst of the Potato Famine. Sir Henry’s ideology deeply affected Constance and her sister Eva. Eva later became a leader in the labor and suffrage movements in England, while Constance eventually took up the cause of Irish freedom.

What led Constance to forward her regard for the Irish poor to the need for Irish freedom might have something to do with the company she kept. Constance fancied herself an artist and had many artistic friends, most notably, William Butler Yeats, who later wrote a poem dedicated to the Gore-Booth sisters.

What many may not realize is the nationalistic ideas and movements were long fostered in the Irish arts community. The arts were a means of keeping the culture alive and be it poetry, song, or plays, it was one of the few venues the Irish had to voice their outrage over the conditions in which they were subjected to.

po13_t01Constance joined this community with dreams of becoming a painter. She studied in Dublin for a time before moving on to France. All the while becoming involved in political movements regarding labor, suffrage, and equal rights. I was during her time in France in 1901 that Constance met and married Count Kazimierz Dunin-Markiewicz, a Polish Aristocrat who conveniently was also a painter and playwright. This was obviously a shot-gun marriage as Constance gave birth to a daughter shortly thereafter.

The Markieviczs moved to Dublin in 1903 becoming one of the mainstays in artistic circles. Through these circles, Constance became involved with the Gaelic League, an organization devoted to preserving Irish culture and language and served as incubator to the future leaders of Ireland, such as Douglas Hyde, future first president of a free Ireland.

By 1908, Constance had all but left a life of art behind and led a life devoted to Irish politics and attaining Irish freedom. And proving that you can take the girl out of the royal carriage but you can not take the royalty out of the girl, Constance turned up for her meeting of women’s revolutionary movement in a ballgown and tiara. True story.

The fun stuff really begins when Constance set her tiara towards taking down Winston Churchill in a parliamentary election. She showed up to Parliament in a carriage drawn by four white horses just to make a spectacle of it. She lost of course, but the effect was powerful. The suffragists were able to split the Churchill vote and thus give the election to another opposition candidate.

Mugshot of Countess Markievicz

Mugshot of Countess Markievicz

The deeper Constance embroiled herself into the cause, the more radical she became. In 1909, she founded Fianna Eireann, a paramilitary training corps for Irish teenage boys.  Constance also was arrested for speaking in favor of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and for protesting the visit of King George V in 1911. When workers suffered a lock-out for protesting against police brutality, Constance paid for food to feed families out of her own pocket and started local soup kitchens. In fact, Constance eventually sacrificed nearly all of her own wealth in support of the cause.

The long strain of Republicanism on Constance’s marriage took its toll by 1913 when her husband moved to the Ukraine never to return to Ireland. By 1916, Constance was fully immersed in planning and execution of the Easter Rising. Constance put down her tiara, picked a gun and served as second in command at the St. Stephen’s barricade, one of many encampments through the six-day long siege of the city.

Constance dug trenches, set up barricades, actually shot a British solider, and refused surrender until she received a copy of surrender orders from the the top command.

Of the 70 women arrested during the uprising and serving as “guests” at the Kilmainham Gaol, Constance was the only to be placed in solitary confinement. She further sassed her captors at her court-martial and when her sentence of death was commuted on account of her gender, she replied to the court: “I wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.”

Politics being what they are and the swell of support that arose from Irish Catholics to the government response of the Eater Rising, Constance was released in 1917. Shortly after, Constance renounce her Anglican faith and converted to Catholicism.

In 1918, Constance was jailed again for anti-conscription shananigans. While in jail, however, Constance was voted into the British House of Commons under the Sinn Fein party. The first women ever elected. As a part of general protest, she refused to take her seat.The first Dail Eireann convened in 1918 declaring Ireland a free republic and generally kicking off the Irish War for Independence.


Constance served in government, most notably as labor secretary, until 1922 when Eamon de Valera, Constance and other followers resigned in protest over the passage of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which formally separated North and South Ireland.

A major turn-about occurs in 1923, when Constance, re-elected to government yet again, refused to take her seat and participated in other activities considered detrimental to the new Irish state. She was jailed, again, and led 92 other women in a hunger strike.

Constance kept her foot in the door of Irish politics until her death in 1927 at the age of 59. Years of working in Dublin poorhouses more than likely exposed her to tuberculosis listed as the official cause of death. Her estranged husband returned from abroad and was at her side when she died.

Eamon de Valera provided her eulogy. Sean O’Casey, the famous Irish playwright, provides the most memorable quote about Constance:

“One thing she had in abundance—-physical courage; with that she was clothed as with a garment”.

noor_ancestor1Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944), another SOE dame, is remembered for being the first female radio operator sent into occupied France during WWII,  unfortunately, she is also, incorrectly, remembered for being a princess.

Noor has an interesting family lineage in that her father, Hazrat Khan, was descended from a defunct Muslim royal line and was also the founder of the Sufi Order International. In case you were wondering, Sufism is a practice of Islamic Mysticism. Not to be outdone, Noor’s mother, Ora Noor, was an American from new Mexico and sister to Pierre Bernard, an early American yogi instructor/scholar and all-around shady character.

Noor was better traveled than most adults by a young age. She was born in Russia and spent her early years in England before the family finally settled in France.

Noor’s father passed away when Noor was just 13. As the eldest she assumed many familial responsibilities. Noor did however find it in her to study psychology at the Sorbonne and become an accomplished musician. Noor had a career in writing poetry and children’s books and contributed her talents to French radio. All of this was brought short when the family fled France for England before the outbreak of WWII.

Despite her Sufi upbringing, which emphasizes no small amount pacifism, Noor was determined lend her efforts to defeating Nazi Germany. She joined the Women’s Auxilliary Air Force in 1940 where she learned to become a wireless operator. After a year of mind-numbing work, Noor requested a transfer to the SOE where she joined the now infamous F-Section. It was here in the SOE that Noor adopted the name Nora Baker.

Noor had a mixed track record with the group. Her superiors found her inconsistent and unsuitable for service, but her much needed fluency in French and her skills in wireless operations made it necessary to send her into France.

noor-khan-waaf-uniformNoor, codename “Madeleine”, was dropped into France in June 1943. She made her way to Paris and went to work. Within a very short period of time, nearly all the wireless operators in the area were captured. Despite being offered passage back to England, Noor refused to leave her post and continued transmitting while ping-ponging about the area to avoid capture. Dispatches from other officers comment on her critical and “excellent work”.

By October 1943, the gig was up. Noor was either betrayed by a suspected double agent within SOE’s Paris ranks or this same person’s sister who had lost the affections of a boyfriend to Noor and retaliated by ratting Noor out to the Nazi SS. Noor was arrested and put up one hell of a fight. Her captors were so disarmed by the former artist’s volatile reaction, that they  labeled her an “extremely dangerous prisoner”.

Noor returned the favor by escaping. Twice. Never once giving up any of her intelligence. Unfortunately, the Gestapo found copies of Noor’s coded messages, and while the codes were unbroken, they continued transmitting to the SOE posing as Noor. Unfortunately, the SOE did not follow up on the inconsistencies in these false messages. The SOE sent in additional agents, all whom were captured.

After a final escape attempt in November 1943, and after refusing to sign a paper agreeing  no further escape attempts (I know, laughable, did the Gestapo really think she would ever sign such a thing?), Noor was sent to Germany as a “Nacht und Nebel” prisoner. This meant solitary confinement. All matters pertaining to Noor were kept tightly under wraps. Noor was kept in shackles and chains 24 hours a day. A prison director testified after the war that the woman the SOE found so unsuitable maintained a policy of complete noncooperation.

Commemration plaque at Dachau.

Commemoration plaque at Dachau.

In September 1944, Noor and three other female operatives were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. On September 13, 1944, Noor and the three women were executed with a single shot to the head. Another prisoner who witnessed the event claimed Noor was savagely beaten by prison guards prior to execution and that her final word was “Liberté”.

A plaque at the Dachau camp commemorates the execution.


The numerous honors and awards bestowed posthumously to Noor include: the Croix de Guerre, the MBE, and the George Cross.

Events in Noor’s life were borrowed, like many other female agents, for the fictional character of Charlotte Gray. Also, numerous books and articles have been published about Noor…all referring to her as the “Princess Spy”.

As if this dame needed a lame and irrelevant title such as “Princess” to make her life more amazing.

225px-edith_wilson_cropped_2In honor of Election Day, I am going to devote this entry to all things presidential. Edith Wilson (1872-1961), second wife of Woodrow Wilson and First Lady of the United States from 1915-1921, is remembered by a number of titles including “The Secret President” and “The First Lady to Run the Government”, but I like to think her as the “Unofficial First Female President of the United States”. The ultimate Decision Maker.

The Bolling family hailed from the great Commonwealth of Virginia during colonial times. Edith herself descended from a fantastic line of people including Pocahontas and George Washington. The daughter of a judge, Edith grew up a proper Virginian lady, married a prosperous jeweler, Norman Galt, and lived a comfortable life in Washington DC. After the death of newborn son in 1905 and the unexpected death of her husband in 1908, Edith was a widow for 7 years before being introduced to President Woodrow Wilson through a cousin and marrying him after a very brief courtship.

With Wilson being 58 to Edith’s 43 years, Edith spent the majority of their marriage trying to keep her husband in good health under the strain of the presidency during World War I. Edith lost that battle and Woodrow had a stroke in September of 1919.

Not trusting the Vice President, Thomas Marshall, to assume control, Edith immediately cut off all access to her husband. All communications went through Edith who then decided what to present to Woodrow and what not to present and delegate elsewhere. This is where thing get interesting. According to Edith, as written later in her memoirs, she claims not to have made a single decision and insists every thing was passed by Woodrow for him to decide.

edith_wilsonNow this is matter of much debate. Many medical experts claim that due to the severity of his stroke, Woodrow Wilson would not have been in any condition to make any decisions. It is due to this assumption that many consider Edith to responsible for the numerous diplomatic errors during Woodrow’s confinement.

So let’s consider this. If Edith did in fact pass everything by her husband that she deemed important, that’s still a highly influential act. We all have biases and prejudices that affect our judgement and Edith would be no different during her “screening process”. What she deemed unimportant and delegated to someone else may have had sweeping consequences. That person may have had radically views from her husband and may have approached whatever was passed on to him in a completely different manner. To the level of which this happened we’ll never know.

The hope of all intelligence analysts is that the Decision Maker understands what the hell they are trying to brief them on. Edith was obviously a well-educated women, but you still have to wonder what exactly came before her during that time and how much she really understood.

But I’m not going to go as far as to say this is a bad thing. Yes, the first Lady is not an elected official. But look at the amazing women who have been First Ladies. Given their intelligence, their acumen, their experience of having lived a life of politics, well, let’s just say that Abigail Adams or Eleanor Roosevelt certainly would have had no problem getting my vote.

As we know, Woodrow Wilson died three years after leaving office. Edith herself passed on at the ripe old age of 89 in 1961, the same day that the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was to be dedicated in Washington DC.

Maureen Baginski is a distinguished member of this Agent’s favorite tribe of dames: cryptologists. After a long and successful career at the NSA, Baginski left to take on the world of domestic intelligence clean-up at the FBI as the first Executive Assistant Director of Intelligence.

Baginski (1953-), who graduated from college with degrees in Slavic Studies specializing in Russian literature, joined the NSA in 1979 in an effort to pay the bills. She began as a Russian language instructor at the National Cryptologic School and through the decades, was assigned to a good deal of management posts including the NSA’s 24-hour Watch Center.

Baginski is known for a career of calling it like it is and suggesting reform from within. In 2003, Robert Mueller of the FBI tapped Baginski to enter their ranks and reform the way the bureau handles domestic intelligence from top to bottom.

Now let’s all step back a moment and consider this. Reform the FBI. Baginski was a career NSA gal and while intelligence agencies have certain things in common, Baginski was moving over to an entity where she didn’t speak the proverbial language and had to learn and understand the culture right quick in order to be effective.

And of course the question is always posed: what does “culture” have to do with anything? Every business, school, neighborhood, or in this case, government entity, has its own unique culture unto itself. Culture being defined by a dictionary as: the behaviors and beliefs, characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group, or the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

The FBI has operated as a law enforcement agency since its inception. It is a very male dominated, gun-loving place where intelligence analysis is a side dish of peas to the pot-roast of busting bad guys. To change the culture, the mindset of a nearly 100 year old institution, is no minor undertaking performed with one’s Easy-Bake Oven. To accomplish this task, Baginski is using nothing less than a Viking professional series range with dual fuel capacity…metaphorically speaking that is.

The end result? Well, that would be classfied now wouldn’t it? The old addage that successes go uncelebrated while screw-ups suffer very public indignities does apply. And in the five years since Baginski took the post, it’s been very quiet on the FBI homefront which I am sure we can all agree is very good thing.

Grace Hopper

Posted: October 22, 2008 in First in Her Class, Navy, Technology

Navy Rear Admiral “Amazing Grace” Murray Hopper (1906-1992) revolutionized the world and you probably didn’t even know it.

Lead inventor of the Harvard Mark I & II computers, largely considered to be the first computerized calculator, and inventor of the first compiler for a computer programming language, this gal changed life as we know it, from the PC sitting on your desk to how your toaster knows when your bread lightly done. I don’t think I need to enumerate how this affected the spy trade.

Grace was born and raised on the East coast, received Ivy-covered degrees in mathematics and physics from Vassar, went on to Yale for graduate degrees in more of the same, and eventually called it a day after receiving her PhD in mathematics. Hailing from a family with a military tradition dating back to the Revolutionary War, Grace joined the Navy in 1943. Grace bounced around a lot during her career usually holding more than one job all the while, but one thing remained consistent and that was her military service.

But back to the computer thing, here’s what this dame did to really set the world on its ear: she invented FLOW-MATIC, a computer language that is the proverbial mother of COBOL: Common Business Oriented Language, one the the very few original computer languages that is still in use today. Basically, Grace invented a way to take the English language and translate it into a mathematical language a computer could understand. This was back in 1959, think about it, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were not even four years old.

Grace had a long and illustrious career in computers and the Navy. She served both until the day she died and upon the heaps and heaps of honors and accolades she received, the coolest has to be that the Navy named a guided missile destroyer (appropriately enough) after our gal Grace. The USS Hopper is one of only a handful military vessels named after a broad.

Amusing little fun facts about Grace: she coined the term “debug”, when you remove a glitch from a computer system, and the quote “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission” is attributed to her.

And my favorite: “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what the ship was built for”.

Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) is most often recognized for her skillful navigation of the Underground Railroad, but too few people seem to know that she was also a highly successful Union spy.

What is a long and worthy life story to know is unfortunately going to get the Reader’s Digest treatment here and then I’m going straight for the spy stuff.

Born in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman was a slave until she escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. Slowly, Tubman returned to Maryland and helped smuggle her family to freedom. Suffering from seizures and “visions” that can be attributed to a head injury at the hands of a slave-owner, Tubman heeded to what she felt was a calling to aid other slaves through the secretive network to freedom. Known only in those circles as “Moses”, Tubman never lost a passenger. The South knew someone was smuggling escapees into the North but had no idea a five-foot-tall former slave woman was heading the operations. When the Fugitive Slave Law passed in 1850, Tubman then went to great efforts helping former slaves into Canada where they could be better protected.

On a side note: prior to the Civil War, John Brown even tapped her extensive geographical knowledge of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia in his failed attempts at Harpers Ferry though Tubman did not support Brown’s ideology of violence.

Okay, now the spy stuff: when the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army as a cook, nurse and teacher on the Carolina Sea Islands. The year following, Tubman lent her skills in setting up a very sophisticated network of intelligence gathering for the Union Army.

Later, when it came to be known at the top of Tubman’s special skills, she became an armed scout. Tubman was the first woman to lead an armed expedition into war along the Combahee River and liberated over 700 slaves along the way. She disrupted Confederate supply lines and helped troops navigate mines planted in waterways.

All this and apparently the Union Army considered her services a donation. For years following the war, Tubman applied for a pension and was routinely denied. Although she had the support of Secretary of State William Seward, Colonel T. W. Higginson, and General Rufus, she was still denied. She supported herself during the war selling baked goods and root beer (all items she had to make in her non-existent “off-time”). It wasn’t until 1899 that Harriet Tubman received her first pension check, as widower of a soldier, her second husband.

Somehow, I just don’t think his war efforts match up to hers.

Tubman spent her last years as a suffragette but died in 1913, failing to see to yet another freedom come to pass.