I hope that you are all staying healthy and at least relatively sane during this difficult time. Today I have something a bit different to share with you all. I have for a long while now been thinking about doing some sort of series about women who I have spent time learning about and have found interesting and inspiring. The first woman who I have written about is Virginia Hall. You won’t regret spending the time to read through this (very long) post about her. 😀
Virginia Hall was a remarkable woman with a fascinating story. Contrary how most people viewed her, Virginia Hall was an extremely important woman. She is a classic example of how women and their accomplishments have not been valued throughout history. Virginia played a part in the fight to win WWII by working to free France from Hitler’s clutches.
Virginia’s childhood was mostly happy and easy. She had a loving stepfather, a caring if particular mother and an older brother. Virginia was an outdoorswoman and an excellent markswoman. As she grew older, she became discontent with what her mother wanted her to do with her life, which was to marry a wealthy man and increase the family’s social standing. Virginia wanted more out of life and her solution was to go to Europe. Virginia spent several years in Europe as a young woman. She fell further in love with her “second country” France and enjoyed the freedom of the lifestyle offered to her there. Virginia’s time in France increased her fluency in French, a skill that would serve her well later in life.
Virginia returned home right before World War II began. Her dream was to become an ambassador. This was sadly impossible due to the fact that women at the time were not allowed to be ambassadors. Virginia, who was desperate to do something worked a series of desk jobs in different parts of the government. On one of these assignments she was sent to Indonesia.
While Virginia was in Indonesia, she went shooting multiple times. On one of these occasions she seriously injured herself. After shooting on one occasion, Virginia tripped and fired a blank into her leg. The wound quickly got infected, it got so bad that for some time they were not sure that Virginia was going to make it. Amazingly Virginia did pull through, but she lost her leg in the process. For the rest of her life Virginia had a prosthetic leg that she called Cuthbert.
As Virginia was recovering, the war was gathering in momentum. When Virginia was fully recovered she decided that she was done sitting behind a desk. The closest a woman got to the battlefields was through nursing or other medical work. Virginia did not have any training as a nurse and was uninterested in receiving any training. So Virginia did the only other thing that was available to her at the time, she began driving ambulances, helping those fighting on the front lines in Europe. She drove under extremely intense conditions and was braver and more determined than her fellow ambulance drivers.
At some point during Virginia’s time as an ambulance driver, she was approached by a man who offered to put her in touch with someone who he thought could use her skills. At first Virginia was unwilling to pursue this opportunity, but eventually she decided to use the contact information given too her. Through those contacts she became connected to Baker Street, the British Intelligence agency who was trying to help stir resistance in France.
After Virginia received basic training she was sent to Paris undercover as an American journalist. For the first year or so of the time that Virginia was in France she wrote articles and sent them to Baker Street to uphold the cover. Virginia’s goal was to find people willing to help in the fight to liberate France from Hitler and Germany. She very carefully began to contact and find people willing to aid her and their country. These people helped with many things, such as providing safe houses and forging needed papers.
Very quickly Virginia established herself as a successful and superior agent. Her fellow male agents time and again found themselves in trouble due to their own stupidity. These agents often drank heavily due to the constant stress of their lives, gambled away money that was not their own and also took mistresses. These women often had loose lips and the alcohol made these men spill information. Virginia was extremely private and careful, preventing these common mistakes.
Virginia worked hard during her time in France. She had setbacks, had to do difficult things and at times end fellow agents’ or others’, who were a liability to everything she was working towards, lives. Virginia lived in a constant state of stress and relied heavily on sleeping pills. Despite the setbacks and occasional mistakes everyone who worked with Virginia admired and respected her. One man who worked with her said that Virginia’s “amazing personality, integrity and enthusiasm was an example and inspiration for us all”.
Virginia helped British and American soldiers leave and enter France safely. She also lead multiple jailbreaks to free British and American soldiers and French resistance fighters. After working for years to the benefit of the Allies, at the end of the war, Virginia returned to the United States. Virginia later became one of the first women to join the CIA, sadly this was not everything that she hoped it would be and she retired after a series of different jobs within the CIA. While Virginia was part of the CIA she was once again not appreciated and her skills were not taken advantage of. Instead agents were taught and led by young wealthy men without any experience.
Virginia died on July 8, 1982, she was seventy-six. Virginia’s health had gone downhill as she got older, leading to her quiet death in 1982. This was a quiet ending to a life that at many times was disappointing, but also was extremely full of adventure at other times.
Source: A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell
I hope that you enjoyed learning a bit about Virginia Hall’s life. She was an remarkable woman in a male-dominated area of work. Virginia’s story is both inspiring and sad. It is truly incredible what she able to accomplish despite the fact that she had a prosthetic leg. Learning about the last years of Virginia’s life made me sad, there was so much she could have done, but was unable to do because she was a woman.
Had you ever heard of Virginia Hall? What did you find most interesting about her story?