Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Virginia Hall: the one-legged spy who defeated the Germans

March 4, 2011 by Kathleen Maher


Today is the official opening of the Center’s new exhibit, Spies, Traitors and Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America. March also happens to be Women’s history month, so to mark both of the occasions we created in fun lobby program for our visitors about Women in Espionage. The stories in the program were so interesting that we couldn’t just keep them in our lobby, so for the next few Fridays we will feature a new woman spy. Up first, we have Virginia Hall, who served the United States during World War II.

Virginia Hall was born in Baltimore, Maryland to a wealthy family. She traveled to Europe to finish her education, and in 1931 became a Consular Service clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. Virginia had hoped to become a diplomat, but in 1932 accidentally shot herself in the leg while hunting. Her leg had to be amputated, and replaced with a wooden prosthetic, later dubbed Cuthbert.

Virginia was living in Paris when World War II broke out, and volunteered her services as a spy. Code-named “Diane,” she worked with the French Resistance during the German Occupation, and mapped out drop zones for supplies and commandos, found safe houses, and eventually helped train resistance forces to wage guerilla warfare against the Germans, all while continuing send valuable information back to the allied forces.

The Germans gave her the nickname Artemis, and the Gestapo considered her one of the most dangerous of all the Allied spies. Also know as the “lady with the limp,” Virginia worked hard to learn how walk without a limp so she wouldn’t be caught.

Virginia Hall was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945, the only woman to be awarded this medal in World War II. After the war, Virginia joined the CIA, working as an intelligence analyst. She retried from the CIA in 1966, and died several years later in 1982.

Stay tuned for next Friday’s installment, where we’ll share with you the story of Confederate spy Emeline Pigott.

Photo credit: Spartacus Educational


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