Mary Washington Grads Helped Make Code Girls

Historian Elizabeth “Betsy” Rohaly Smoot ’82 played a key role in author Liza Mundy’s research for the bestselling book Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.

Speaking on campus Jan. 25 as part of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series, Mundy described working with Smoot, a now-retired historian with the National Security Agency (NSA). Mundy said Smoot not only directed her to important parts of the NSA archive, she helped by contacting families of the code breakers.

Among the code breakers was Virginia Urbin Melvin ’43, one of many Southern women recruited to do the important work in support of American and allied efforts in World War II. Melvin passed away in 2003.

Day after day the code breakers deciphered messages that pinpointed the locations of Japanese supply ships. After the war, the women were sworn to secrecy about their contributions. But the oath of secrecy was eventually lifted and records declassified, so their story could be told at last.

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