A Woman to Know: Elizebeth Friedman

I stumbled across a one-sentence blurb regarding Elizebeth Friedman in February, while working on another story that took me into the Hillsdale County Historical Society archives.  She was a pioneer in the field of cryptology and a 1915 alumna of my college — an interesting combination.  So I grabbed a Post-It, jotted a quick note, and slapped it onto the edge of a tea-caddy-laden shelf overlooking my desk.

I relocated the note in early March — appropriately enough, Women’s History Month — and my interest in Elizebeth began.  She is a woman of amazing intellect and ability who managed to become a pioneer in her field before women even had the right to vote.  She and her husband adored each other, and both managed to have rewarding careers and healthy home lives. And she managed it all with remarkable wit and poise.

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, please get to know this amazing woman and share her life and her work with others.  You can read the full article that ran in The Collegian here or on The Collegian’s website.  But for now, here are a few little interesting facts I love that didn’t make it into the article:

  1. Elizebeth’s name is spelled with the third “e” because her mother didn’t want anyone abbreviating her name to “Eliza.”
  2. During Prohibition, a hit was put on Elizebeth to keep her from testifying and the government assigned guards to Elizebeth—but she wasn’t informed until later.
  3. While living in Washington, D.C., the Friedmans held dinner parties where guests were given ciphers after the first course.  They had to break the code to discover where the second course was being served, and then yet another code to find dessert.
  4. William and Elizebeth would help people who wrote to ask for help cracking codes.  One such write-in was a group of guards from the Ohio State Penitentiary, who needed help decrypting messages passed between inmates and people on the outside planning a bank robbery and/or an escape.
  5. Elizebeth mostly received Bs while a student at Hillsdale, however she did get A’s in English XIII, English XI(abc), and Philosophy 1.  She also got a C in Sociology.  Grade books from the years she attended Hillsdale are still in the registrar’s office.

My interest and curiosity has only grown over the course of my research and I hope to write more about Elizebeth at a later date.  Happy Women’s History Month and enjoy The Collegian article here!

Friedman 007_2ESF 1918ESF WWIIIllus 58

(from left to right): Elizebeth and her husband, William, at Riverbank; Elizebeth in 1918; during WWII; and with William during the 1960s. All courtesy of The George C. Marshall Foundation.