Sisters Bonnie Baumgartner and Nancy Eicher share a secret, a secret about a demur, dignified aunt of theirs who bucked convention and authority, and went out to change the world. Elizebeth Smith Friedman was born on this Huntington County farm in 1893, the youngest of nine children of a strict Quaker father whom, she determined, was not going to run her life.
'“She decided that if she stayed in Indiana she was going to get married, have children and die,' says Baumgartner, “and she knew she was not going to live that life.”
Defying her fathers orders and societies norms Elizebeth went off to college, studied English and Shakespeare and got a job at a private Chicago think tank searching for hidden codes in Shakespeare's plays. She met fellow cryptologist William Friedman, the couple married and moved to Washington, D. C., where William deciphered enemy codes for the War Department and Elizebeth did the same for the Treasury Department, cracking secret codes used by liquor and drug smugglers during prohibition.
“Elizebeth did a lot of her code breaking with pencil and paper,” says Baumgartner. “Women Were really better at breaking the codes because they were more patient and they could find the little thread that would allow them to break the code.”
Elizebeth's work sent dozens of crime syndicate bosses to prison and attracted the attention of the War Department, which put her to work deciphering enemy codes during World War Two. She broke enigma machine codes used by Nazi intelligence and singlehandedly unmasked Velvalee Dickinson, the infamous 'Doll Woman', a spy for Japan who used her New York doll shop as a front for enemy espionage. A new book just published, 'The Woman Who Unmasked Codes' explores Elizebeth Smith Friedman's accomplishments and says her work directly saved countless thousands of Allied lives during the war, and argues the story of this quiet, brilliant patriot from 21 Country has been ignored too long.
'How do you all feel about having this woman in your family?' we ask. “Oh, I'm very proud. Because we don't know anything other than just little things. What our parents said. What mom said. And they all said she was never given credit for what she did. She went on to do things because she didn't want to live a common life.”