Women Who Coded in War Time: the Forgotten Veterans

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War is not just the physical action that takes place on the battlefield. During the First World War technology development became the best form of defense against enemy attack. In fact, war time intelligence gathering and monitoring was a field largely dominated by women, and it was their dedication to code breaking that helped win the war for the Allies in World War Two. However, many of these women have gone unrecognized by history. As part of our dedication to diversity, Coleman University wants to bring more attention to these veterans who helped end World War 2, and foster a larger dialogue about the women who have become invaluable pioneers in technology.

It is estimated that there are over 10,000 women who contributed to war time code breaking; but most of them have never been recognized for their achievements. It was a woman who was the first the learn that World War Two was over after she decoded a message sent from Japan to neutral Switzerland offering an unconditional surrender. It was also a woman who helped Alan Turing build his computing engine in Bletchley Park, Great Britain, that helped to decipher the codes being sent by the Nazis. So why were these incredible women left out of the conversation about war time efforts?

In the same way that women took over in factories and in mills to help the war effort, those who enlisted ended up taking over the jobs that men would have held in other times. Though the CIA was still in its infancy, they were in a rush to hire as many workers as possible to get ahead of the growing stack of coded intelligence that needed to be deciphered. Ironically men were hesitant to join the code breakers because it was considered menial work, and honor and prestige was believed to be earned on the battlefield. The women who would help break codes and save millions of lives left their homes under the pretense of being hired to do secretarial work for the government, and were sworn to severe secrecy at the potential cost of the safety of the country. It was this dedication to secrecy that led many of the women to avoid speaking about their experiences to anyone, including their own families. Their jobs consisted of sifting through thousands of messages, often taking weeks to decode even one.

It was these women who would be the first to learn that their loved ones were the target of an attack, or that their hometowns had been bombed, but often they were helpless to stop it. They willingly took on the burden of having to know top secret information that directly affected the war, yet they had to be as secretive about their work as the messages they were decoding. However they did get some of their own action in the war, by creating phony messages for the Germans to intercept that would affect the attack on Normandy known as D-Day. The contributions of these code breakers is almost immeasurable considering how much their work would further the development of the code breaking computers and machines that would come after the war was over. Only an extremely small number of women who were code breakers during the war stayed on to continue their careers. Many moved back to civilian life and never spoke of their involvement in the war again. As we celebrate the veterans who have fought for our nation in and out of wartime, we must also stop and think about the women who were not on the front lines but who still dedicated their lives to helping the war effort. These forgotten veterans are part of the deep history of women who have contributed to the STEM fields and whose legacy must be celebrated and must continue to be celebrated for future generations.



Coleman University values providing an equal opportunity for all who are interested to establish a career in technology. What could you do with a degree in cybersecurity, software development, or game development? Call us today at (858) 499-0202 to find out!

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