Clare Elizebeth <I>Smith</I> Friedman


Clare Elizebeth Smith Friedman Famous memorial

Huntington, Huntington County, Indiana, USA
Death 31 Oct 1980 (aged 88)
Plainfield, Union County, New Jersey, USA
Burial Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA
Plot Section 8, Grave 6379
Memorial ID 25154231 View Source

Cryptologist, National Security Specialist. Elizebeth Friedman received notoriety in the first half of the twentieth century as "America's first female cryptanalyst,” in the pioneering science of cryptanalysis. Without knowing the key to a code, she became a proficient decipher of coded messages. Born the youngest of nine surviving children in a Quaker household, she was the daughter of John Marion Smith, a farmer and banker, and his wife Sopha Strock. After local schools, she attended the University of Wooster in Ohio from 1911 to 1913 and Hillsdale College in Michigan from 1913 to 1915, graduating with a degree in English Literature. Wanting her to marry instead of going to college, her father provided her with an educational loan at 6% interest. After being a substitute school principal for a year, she relocated to Chicago to become a librarian at the Newberry Library. Being a Shakespearean enthusiast, she was approached in 1916 by George Fabyan, the owner of Riverbank Laboratories, located in Geneva, Illinois, to decipher the enciphered messages that were supposed to have been contained within the Shakespearean plays and poems. This led to her accepting a position at Riverbank Laboratories, thus her career as a crytanalyst began. On her first day at the facility, she met William Friedman. She and Friedman did pioneering work for decoding by compiling information on ancient secret writings. On April 6, 1917 the United States entered World War I, and in May of 1917 the couple married in a Jewish ceremony. During World War I, Riverbank Laboratories became the only facility in the United States available for enciphering messages. She was quickly promoted from clerk to cryptanalyst. The codebreaking was done by a 30-member team, and she was part of the team while her husband was serving in the Army in Europe. After World War I in May of 1919, the United States Army Cipher Bureau was created, where she taught decoding classes. Although Riverbank Laboratories did everything to keep their decoders, the couple relocated to Washington, DC on January 3, 1921 for positions with the United States War Department. She held positions with the United States Navy in 1923, Treasury Department Bureau of Prohibition in 1925 and last, the Bureau of Customs. After becoming a mother, she started successfully working from home until 1927 when she had to travel with a team. In 1931, she was made Cryptanalyst-in-Charge for the United States Coast Guard. Thousands of telegrams were decoded by her to gain evidence against smugglers of millions of dollars worth of alcohol, drugs and stolen contraband on boats in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Pacific Ocean coastline. She was witness for the prosecution against the smugglers in federal court trials in 1933. In 1934 she represented the United States in the International Arbitration with Great Britain and France when the United States Coast Guard sank an American-owned boat flying a Canadian flag, “I'm Alone,” off the coast of Louisiana, while smuggling illegal alcohol between Canada and the United States. A French deckhand drown in the incident. When she was giving evidence in trials against dozens of organized crime figures, she had to have body guards after her photograph was pasted in newspaper headlines. Often using a blackboard and chalk with a pointer stick, she, at barely 5-foot tall, look more like a teacher than the star prosecution witness in a federal trial. Decoding millions of messages during World War II while working in complete secrecy, she played a critical role in safe-guarding United States military information from Nazi and Japanese spies. By codebreaking, she provided evidence in the 1944 conviction of espionage of Velvalee Dickinson, known as the “Doll Lady,” who smuggled information to Japanese agents. She helped to prosecute Chinese opium smugglers in Canada and decrypted Nazi messages to break a South American spy ring. At the end of the war, the decoding department was merged into “J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, where females were not allowed to be agents or have any lead positions. After retirement in 1946, she became a consultant and created communications security systems for the International Monetary Fund. With her husband's retirement, she co-authored with him the 1957 book, “The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined,” which received many awards from the Folger Shakespearean Library and the American Shakespeare Theater and Academy. The book is still in print. With her husband's 1969 death, she consolidated 22 boxes of papers on decoding for the world's most extensive private collection, which was archived at the George C. Marshall Research Library in Lexington, Virginia. Their earliest research at Riverbank Laboratories eventually became the foundation of the National Security Agency, yet this documentation was burnt upon Fabyan's death in 1935. Her most covert investigations were declassified shortly before her death giving insight in the role she played in national security and proving that she did not work in her husband's shadow. Among her many achievements, she was the mother to a son and a daughter. She was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by Hillsdale College in Michigan in 1938. After being cremated, her ashes were buried in her husband's grave. Her latest biography, “The Woman Who Smashed Codes,” was published in 2017 by Jason Fagon.

Bio by: Linda Davis


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: John Michael
  • Added: 9 Mar 2008
  • Find a Grave Memorial ID: 25154231
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Clare Elizebeth Smith Friedman (26 Aug 1892–31 Oct 1980), Find a Grave Memorial ID 25154231, citing Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Find a Grave .