The Secret Life of a Female Code Breaker

A new PBS film hails the life of pioneering code breaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman


More than 80 years now separates us from the Second World War. As information about that titanic struggle becomes declassified, we learn more about the highly sensitive and critical work that was done by ordinary citizens with extraordinary minds to defeat the Nazis and the Japanese—work, especially in codebreaking, that was done by unsung heroes who signed agreements not to utter a word about their trade  or its successes during their lifetimes, and who received little or no recognition for it. 

The best known example of this has been the story of British cryptologist Alan Turing. His creation of the machine that broke the German Enigma code would remain classified until the 1970s. His story, and the tragic details of his personal life, would receive widespread recognition mainly through the highly successful play “Breaking the Code” in 1985, and then the 2014 film, The  Imitation Game.

Now comes the much deserved and belated story of Elizebeth Friedman, an American woman who was break…

This post is for paid subscribers