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Women in STEM - Elizebeth Friedman

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

Elizebeth Smith Friedman became known as “America’s First Cryptanalyst.”

One of nine children, and only one of 2 to attend college, Elizebeth Smith studied languages and literature. She got her first job out of college with Riverbank Laboratories, which was one of the first facilities in the US founded to study cryptography - which is the practice and study of decoding secret communications.

Elizebeth was hired by the laboratory after networking with her local librarian and because she shared a love of Shakespeare with the manager of Riverbank. In fact, her first assignment was to attempt to decrypt and decipher messages that were supposed to have been hidden in the poems and plays.

The Riverbank Labs experience was not just Elizebeth’s first journey into cryptography, it was also the place where should meet her husband, William Friedman. The two of them worked together at Riverbank for 4 years before leaving to work for the war department in Washington D.C.

In her time serving the US government, Elizebeth worked on many different projects. The more difficult the codes and ciphers got, the better she seemed to get at solving them. Over the course of her tenure, she was responsible for thwarting hundreds of drug-smuggling operations, as well as both domestic and international criminal activity. She was also very active in busting bootlegger operations during the prohibition years.

During World War 2, Friedman and her trained team successfully solved numerous encrypted systems used by the Germans and their sympathizers - including cracking the code on three different enigma machines. Elizebeth always seemed to be one-step ahead of the code.

Because of her incredible skill and ability, in 1999 Elizebeth Friedman was inducted into the NSA Hall of Fame, and two years later, they memorialized both she and her husband by naming an NSA building after them.

To learn more about Elizebeth and her incredible work, check out her Wikipedia page:

And watch this video to learn about her work deciphering the enigma machines during WWII. - Elizebeth vs. Enigma

You can also find this incredible children’s book about Elizebeth, Authored by Laurie Wallmark & Illustrated Brooke Smart, “Code Breaker, Spy Hunter” at The Thinking Spot in Wayzata, MN.

Be sure to tell them we sent you! :)

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