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Wise Gals: The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage

Wise Gals: The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage

by Nathalia Holt

Narrated by Erin Bennett

Unabridged — 11 hours, 31 minutes

Nathalia Holt
Wise Gals: The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage

Wise Gals: The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage

by Nathalia Holt

Narrated by Erin Bennett

Unabridged — 11 hours, 31 minutes

Nathalia Holt

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls comes the never-before-told story of a small cadre of influential female spies in the precarious early days of the CIA-women who helped create the template for cutting-edge espionage (and blazed new paths for equality in the workplace) in the treacherous post-WWII era.

In the wake of World War II, four agents were critical in helping build a new organization that we now know as the CIA. Adelaide Hawkins, Mary Hutchison, Eloise Page, and Elizabeth Sudmeier, called the “wise gals” by their male colleagues because of their sharp sense of humor and even quicker intelligence, were not the stereotypical femme fatale of spy novels. They were smart, courageous, and groundbreaking agents at the top of their class, instrumental in both developing innovative tools for intelligence gathering-and insisting (in their own unique ways) that they receive the credit and pay their expertise deserved.
     Throughout the Cold War era, each woman had a vital role to play on the international stage. Adelaide rose through the ranks, developing new cryptosystems that advanced how spies communicate with each other.  Mary worked overseas in Europe and Asia, building partnerships and allegiances that would last decades. Elizabeth would risk her life in the Middle East in order to gain intelligence on deadly Soviet weaponry. Eloise would wield influence on scientific and technical operations worldwide, ultimately exposing global terrorism threats. Through their friendship and shared sense of purpose, they rose to positions of power and were able to make real change in a traditionally “male, pale, and Yale” organization-but not without some tragic losses and real heartache along the way.   
     Meticulously researched and beautifully told, Holt uses firsthand interviews with past and present officials and declassified government documents to uncover the stories of these four inspirational women. Wise Gals sheds a light on the untold history of the women whose daring foreign intrigues, domestic persistence, and fighting spirit have been and continue to be instrumental to our country's security.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Bestseller Holt (Rise of the Rocket Girls) profiles a quintet of pioneering female intelligence agents in this entertaining history. Drawing on diaries, scrapbooks, memos, letters, and recently declassified documents, Holt tracks Adelaide Hawkins, Mary Hutchison, Eloise Page, Elizabeth Sudmeier, and Jane Burrell from their WWII service and recruitment by the newly formed CIA through the early decades of the Cold War. Based in Munich, language expert Hutchison built a network of Ukrainian spies to try to penetrate Soviet intelligence; Sudmeier, who grew up on a reservation in South Dakota and “could pass for multiple ethnicities,” gathered information on Soviet influence in the Middle East; Hawkins, a divorced mom with three children, stayed stateside, where she helped design and implement new covert communications systems. Throughout, Holt highlights the sexism and misogyny these women endured (their efforts to organize for equal pay and recognition was derisively nicknamed the “Petticoat Panel”), weaves in intriguing details about microdot cameras and other spy tools, and draws colorful sketches of people and events including “Wild Bill” Donovan and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Though the story’s multiple threads get unwieldy at times, this is a revealing and vibrant look at the critical contributions women have made to the CIA. Photos. (Sept.)

From the Publisher

One of Los Angeles Times' 10 Books to Add to Your Reading List in September
One of Town & Country’s 45 Must-Read Books for Fall 2022 

“Americans owe a great deal to Adelaide Hawkins, Mary Hutchison, Eloise Page and Elizabeth Sudmeier, the four “wise gals” of Holt’s title who helped build the World War II-era Office of Strategic Services into the Central Intelligence Agency. What they accomplished, in a full moral accounting, might be up for debate, but in the annals of espionage that is too often focused on men, understanding how these women not only contributed to but also contravened the nascent world order is vital.” Los Angeles Times

“[An] impressive book, covering a lot of ground, including incisive critiques of the missions and focus of the CIA, the change from spying to “covert operations.” Holt juggles a lot of material and the reader goes back and forth between the different women, tracking their careers during and after WWII in a complicated zigzag. It’s a testament to Holt’s careful research that the narrative all holds together, made vivid by the many details she uncovered.” New York Journal of Books

“The stories of these five women are stories of quiet heroism, of putting country before self, of getting the job done no matter the personal risk or cost. They all hid behind clerical covers, doggedly persisting in their real work in order to prevent war, preserve life and keep bloodshed to the absolute minimum they could, no matter what bluster or opposition they faced. Ms. Holt brilliantly showcases their lives and heartaches, their tribulations and their triumphs, in a book that’s just as much a reflection on the CIA and American society as it is on these women. As deeply intelligent and empathetic as the group it’s named for, Wise Gals is required reading for anyone interested in either the history of espionage or of the United States in the 20th century.” Criminal Element

“Holt weaves an entertaining and enlightening tale about extraordinary careers, the history of 20th century spy craft, and the obstacles often faced by female agents.”Arlington Magazine

“Riveting…Ms. Holt does an excellent job of curating stories which highlight these five ordinary women who accomplished extraordinary things, not in spite of, but more often because of, their gender.”The Cipher Brief

“Entertaining…[A] revealing and vibrant look at the critical contributions women have made to the CIA.” Publishers Weekly

“Holt returns with another intriguing collective history of an overlooked group of women…[Her] dedication to making her five main characters stand out and come fully to life is to be lauded. With a rich, always relevant subject, Holt's latest is a good choice for book groups.” Booklist

“Well-researched profiles in courage…A vivid group biography of five strong-willed women who held significant positions in the early years of the CIA.” Kirkus Reviews

"Holt vividly chronicles [the Wise Gals’] careers, including multiple incidents from the field. . . Holt also details the work of the Petticoat Panel, a massive effort (involving Sudmeier, Hutchison, Hawkins and Page) to report on and improve the status of women at the agency. At every turn, Holt showcases the women's intelligence, knowledge and grit, while also highlighting the ways they didn't get the recognition they deserved. Insightful and gripping, Wise Gals is a fitting tribute to the brilliant women who shaped the American intelligence landscape.” Shelf Awareness

“A sweeping epic of a book, Holt’s Wise Gals rescues five remarkable women from obscurity and finally gives them their rightful place in world history. This is a fascinating story of pioneers and patriots, of science and technology, of ambition and sacrifice…of female spies. I particularly admired the Cold War sequences, with their insider accounts of both the space and nuclear arms races, but it’s the breathtaking scale of this story that truly stuns: spanning continents and decades with impressive skill and impeccable research, yet simultaneously sharing the tender secrets from each woman’s life to make this political history personal. A book you won’t regret reading. Five women you won’t forget.” –Kate Moore, author of The Radium Girls and The Woman They Could Not Silence

“Check out Wise Gals by Nathalia Holt, the true story of four brilliant women who helped shape the CIA. Throughout the Cold War, Adelaide Hawkins, Mary Hutchison, Eloise Page, and Elizabeth Sudmeier gathered intelligence, built allegiances, developed technology, and demanded they get the respect they deserve. Historian Nathalia Holt weaves together firsthand accounts and declassified government documents to show how these spies changed the game.” –Book Riot

“From my experience as Director of the CIA, it was clear that both men and women played critical roles in defending our nation. Unfortunately, history and legend focuses largely on the men who were part of the CIA – “male, pale and Yale” summarized the makeup of early spies.  But the reality is that both men and women made up the “silent warriors” who put their lives on the line to gather intelligence.  There always were influential female spies who led dangerous missions behind enemy lines.  Because of the great research by author Nathalia Holt, their story is finally being told in Wise Gals.  Their patriotism will be an inspiration to both men and women who want to serve this country.” –Leon Panetta, former Director of the CIA (2009-11) and U. S. Secretary of Defense (2011-13)

“Too often we argue about where we should go when we have little idea how we got to where we are. Nathalia Holt’s Wise Gals is the engrossing story of a group of dedicated women who not only served the nation as intelligence professionals, but also helped to forge a path towards equality and opportunity. As entertaining as it is instructive.” –General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Army (Ret), author of My Share of the Task and Team of Teams

“A sparkling tale of secrets and spies, Wise Gals uncovers a group of exceptional CIA women who helped build the modern intelligence community even as they fought for equal pay and standing with their male colleagues. Holt has a gift for illuminating hidden worlds, and she delivers a story for the ages.” –Jason Fagone, author of The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies

“Nathalia Holt weaves a spellbinding narrative as compulsively readable as a good spy novel. She shines a spotlight on the women who put their lives on the line during World War II and later during the Cold War. They never sought any attention but I am grateful that Nathalia has given it to them.” –Kate Andersen Brower, author of First Women and The Residence

“Nathalia Holt's Wise Gals is a much-needed addition to the history of the OSS and CIA. It shines a bright spotlight on the long-neglected role women played in the shadowy Cold War world of spies and their handlers. Deftly employing multiple narratives and shifting locales, Holt illuminates the trials and adventures of the troupe of savvy female operatives who helped steer the course of post-World War foreign policy for the U.S.” –Tim Brady, author of Three Ordinary Girls

“Utterly thrilling and meticulously researched, Wise Gals is as much le Carré as it is Hidden Figures — a riveting portrait of the dazzling women who safeguard our world from the shadows.” —Amaryllis Fox, author of Life Undercover

"Explosive and enthralling insight into the little-known 'petticoat panel.' The way that the biographies of these brave women is woven within their harrowing work overseas makes this work read like a spy thriller. Holt’s access and research into the world of gender inequality at the CIA should be required reading; she has given these women their rightful place in history.” —Tracy Walder, former CIA operative and FBI special agent and author of The Unexpected Spy

"With the lyrical ease of a natural storyteller, Nathalia Holt weaves deep research into an impossible-to-put-down tale that reads like historical fiction, though every word is true. Spanning continents and decades, Wise Gals shines a necessary spotlight on the extraordinary women who quietly shaped the CIA during its early years, and on the obstacles they had to overcome simply to selflessly serve their country. Both a vital addition to our understanding of the role of women in the 20th century intelligence community, and a fascinating, page-turning read about the perilous years after WWII—and the women who risked it all in the name of protecting their country." —Kristin Harmel, author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars and The Book of Lost Names

“In this page-turner of book, Nathalia Holt pulls back the curtain on the world of espionage to show us the women responsible for our safety. The intriguing and timely Wise Gals declassifies the secret roles women played in the formation of the CIA, to whom we are beholden even now for our security." —Marie Benedict, author of The Only Woman in the Room

“Spies are not supposed to be remembered but we can all thank Nathalia Holt for returning a handful of unsung, trail blazing women to the center of CIA history—where they belong. Tracing the end of WW2 through the Cold War to the crisis in Ukraine today, Wise Gals is fast paced, encyclopedic in scope, and packed with women on the rise, Nazi art dealers on the run, Soviet spy satellites, Middle Eastern military coups, and the unending, ceiling-cracking fight for equality.” —Sarah Rose, author of D-Day Girls

Kirkus Reviews

The hidden lives of pathbreaking women.

Drawing on considerable archival material—diaries, letters, interviews, reports, memos, scrapbooks, and photographs—cultural historian Holt, author of Rise of the Rocket Girls and The Queens of Animation, creates a vivid group biography of five strong-willed women who held significant positions in the early years of the CIA: Adelaide Hawkins, a divorced mother of three; Mary Hutchison, married to a CIA staff officer; Eloise Page, admiringly known as the “Iron Butterfly”; Elizabeth Sudmeier, who had begun her career as secretary to Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan; and Jane Burrell, “the model of a tough, successful CIA officer” whose short-lived career ended in a plane crash in 1948. The women had joined the agency during World War II, when it was known as the Office of Strategic Services. Led by Donovan, it served as the source of vital military intelligence. After the war, President Harry Truman quashed Donovan’s vision of a global web of intelligence-gathering agents, but as the threat of communism grew, Truman reinstated the agency as the Central Intelligence Group. With expanded powers, in 1947, it evolved into the Central Intelligence Agency. Holt reveals the frustration these women felt surrounded by misogynist “male, pale, and Yale” co-workers who were paid more, promoted to higher positions, and allowed privileges—to marry a non-American, for example—denied to women. In the 1950s, Allen Dulles, the new CIA director, set up a panel to address women’s concerns, but the detailed report by what some derisively called the “Petticoat Panel” was ignored. The author traces each woman’s challenging career, which involved recruiting and training foreign agents, designing a secure system for their communications, handling spies, engaging in counterintelligence, and heading operations around the world—Baghdad, London, Frankfurt, Paris, Brussels, and Rome—as the CIA’s focus shifted from containing communism to monitoring nuclear weaponry to tracing terrorists. She makes a strong case for recognizing their talents and sacrifices: Each lived “a life of necessary duplicity.”

Well-researched profiles in courage.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940178630426
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 09/13/2022
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



The message could kill someone. It moved from Berlin to Lisbon to Normandy. Then it was stolen off the coast and sent to Bletchley. Twisted around until nearly unrecognizable, it was shipped off to America. In Washington, D.C., it was jumbled once more before being sent to London and then back to France. The paper swam in a sea of secret messages that formed a flood of intelligence during World War II. Finally, in Normandy, on December 20, 1943, X-2 counterintelligence agent Jane Burrell caught it and read the name that had been hidden between the mixed-up letters.
The name: Carl Eitel.

Carl Eitel had other names. Ten years earlier, when he worked as a waiter on the SS Bremen, moving between Germany and New York, he had been known as Charles Rene Gross. The waiter had spent long hours detailing the ports of New York in his notebook, with an emphasis on their fortifications and aircraft support. Once in the city, he slipped off to the Roxy cinema and then got a beer at Café Vaterland on the corner of Eighty-Sixth Street and Second Avenue. Relaxed and happy, he casually wandered the streets, stopping at every bookstall he could find. He didn't look for reading material. Instead, he purchased technical magazines by the dozen. No matter the subject, Eitel wanted them. Although his behavior had been unusual, he'd passed unnoticed at the time. It was 1934, after all, and the borders of America were then wide open for Western Europeans... even those with an odd penchant for technical detail.

In his hotel in New York, Eitel took a tube of what looked like modeling clay, working it through his fingers until the material was soft and supple. Squeezing a little into a glass partially filled with water, he stirred the substance until it turned a mustardy yellow color. He dipped a toothpick into the thick liquid and dragged it across a sheet of rough paper, writing sentences that quickly faded as the fluid dried on the page. The rugged bond obscured any imperfections caused by writing with a crude toothpick, and soon the sheet of paper appeared blank again. Eitel then used that same piece of seemingly blank paper to write an innocuous letter to Germany, sharing mundane details of life in Manhattan and how much he missed his homeland. But underneath these pleasantries, the contents of his missive were anything but harmless.

Eitel was in fact working for Abwehr, the German intelligence agency, scouting details about the technological capabilities of the country his homeland would soon be at war with. Of all his various duties in the US in that precarious inter-war period, however, none was more important than recruiting new agents. Earlier in 1934, he had introduced a young Spaniard named Juan Frutos to the world of German espionage. Frutos was at the time a baggage handler who also worked on the SS Bremen. An ocean liner was a wonderful place for a spy like Eitel to enlist new agents: it was full of young people who spoke multiple languages, were accustomed to travel, and were in need of money. Frutos was enthusiastic about working for Eitel, no matter how seemingly inconsequential the mission. On one trip he had extravagantly handed Eitel an envelope, as proud as if it contained Winston Churchill's darkest secrets. Instead it was packed with the modest request made by Eitel: dozens of postcards, each one depicting a different French warship. Simple, yes-but these sorts of details would inform crucial intelligence for the years and conflicts that followed.

The two men had kept in contact over the years, as Eitel moved from New York to Germany and then on to Brest, France. The location had the strategic advantage as the closest French port city to the Americas. There Eitel's life had become increasingly luxurious, as World War II had begun and Eitel enjoyed the fruits of his years of intelligence work. During the day he worked inside the charming surroundings of an ancient stone castle, the Château de Brest, which was seized during Germany's occupation of France. He was building an intelligence service using the port's fishing boats. Every day was profitable: even if the boats didn't turn up information about the suspicious travel habits of French citizens, the daily catch made a healthy addition to his bank balance.

His hair had started thinning and his potbelly ballooned, but Eitel was happy. In the evenings he took his girlfriend, Marie Cann, to the bistro he purchased from the profits of Abwehr and the fish market. The rest of his money he blew on extravagant gold jewelry, not for Cann but for himself. His small, round glasses often reflected the glinting light from his gold chains and rings.

The good life was about to end for Eitel. In the summer of 1943, he left France for Lisbon, pulling behind him a web of intelligence agents that stretched across Germany, France, and now Portugal. In his pockets were papers that identified him as a French citizen named Charles Grey. If arrested, he would show those papers to the authorities and pledge his allegiance to the Allies. Yet hidden deep in his belongings, where he hoped they would never be found, were a German passport, a gun, and a vial of cyanide.

The message that would lead to Eitel's downfall seemed harmless at first glance. It was only a few lines long and was one of thousands of transmissions moving through Bletchley Park, Britain's premier cryptanalysis operation. While America's fledgling spy agency was just starting to take baby steps, Britain's MI6 intelligence service was already at a full gallop, and Bletchley Park was the beating heart of the whole operation. And it was a surprisingly equitable one as well-through a combination of availability (most men were off at war, after all) and smarts (specifically in mathematics, where many of the women shined), 75 percent of the team at Bletchley was female, and together they received encrypted messages that had been intercepted over the radio.

In 1940, the team at Bletchley had broken Germany's intensely difficult cipher, Enigma. Codes and ciphers, terms often used interchangeably, are in fact distinct. A code replaces the word or phrase entirely, while a cipher only rearranges the letters. Both codes and ciphers make a message secret and comprise encryption. There were thousands of Enigma ciphers being sent by the Germans, and Bletchley Park was swimming in data, only able to decipher a percentage of the transmissions. But as the Allies were finding, breaking the cipher (as huge of a feat as that had been) wasn't going to be enough.

Even after the jumble of letters and numbers were deciphered, they still didn't make sense. There were too many acronyms to understand the cryptic transmissions, and then all the individual snatches of conversation needed to be pieced together to comprehend the larger message. The codebreakers analyzed the material, fitting together the pieces of information like a puzzle. When they were done, the intelligence they had gathered, deciphered, decoded, and reassembled was called Ultra.

The group at Bletchley did not decide what to do with Ultra. Instead, the messages were disseminated to a select group of high-level agents at British intelligence and in the newly developed US spy services, who would use the hard-won intelligence to their advantage. These messages were precious and seen only by a small number of operatives. They were code-named Ultra because this prized wartime intelligence was considered elevated above even the highest British security clearance-it was the most secret, most valuable commodity the Allies had.

Meanwhile, half a world away from the front lines in Europe, another Wise Gal was struggling with her own sea of secret messages.


In Washington, D.C., months before Eitel moved to Portugal, his name was revealed in a coded message. It was winter, with air so cold and dry it could make your skin crack, but inside her office, Adelaide Hawkins was dripping with sweat. You might think the trouble was the stress of her job. As chief of the cryptanalysis section, she hired, trained, and organized her team of dozens of men and women. The center prepared messages, encrypting and transmitting them across the globe, before decrypting the replies and routing the messages to the appropriate individuals. Her office was nothing like the Bletchley Park complex across the Atlantic. Instead, the majority of American codebreaking during World War II was handled by the US Army Signal Corps and the US Navy Signal Intelligence Group. Addy's work was starkly different, yet it would wield a critical and lasting impact. She was on the forefront of an American experiment that would later be called central intelligence.

Addy was a founding member of a group that was fumbling for recognition: the fledgling American intelligence organization called the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS. The OSS was the world's newest intelligence agency... and by far its least talented. The inexperienced US agency could hardly be compared to the well-established British intelligence service, a massive organization broken into MI5 for domestic spying and MI6 for international espionage. Yet the need for an American system of organizing, evaluating, and communicating intelligence operations across the globe was pressing.

On this Saturday morning in February 1943, inside the headquarters of the OSS, the problem was not the gravity of her work. Instead it was the stuffy basement in which she and her team were confined. There was no air circulation, and the room was packed with young people working elbow to elbow, dancing around the room during moments of success, and even occasionally breaking out into song. But no one was singing now. It was too hot. Then the door swung open loudly and General William Donovan walked in.

Donovan was known by the fun-loving nickname Wild Bill, although there was little crazy about his personality. The man who once planned to become a Catholic priest did not smoke or drink to excess. He was sixty years old and spoke in a reserved voice. He had a round face, a head full of gray hair, and blue eyes that, when narrowed at you, reflected the sagacity of his years of experience. All that experience and gravity was put to the test in his current role as head of the OSS.

As he barged into the room, he remarked, "It's awfully warm in here."

"I know," Addy replied mournfully. "The windows are closed and they've gone away without working on the air conditioning and I don't know what we can do." She gestured toward the small windows above their heads-they were at street level and didn't appear to open.

Although uncomfortable in the hot basement, Addy rarely complained. She was thirty years old, married with three young children, and she adored her job. She had initially joined the OSS in 1941 as a way to escape her annoying mother-in-law, a prickly woman who had come to live with the family after Addy's husband husband was deployed overseas. But she'd grown to love the work and the way it made her feel irreplaceable.

She sat at her desk and pondered the stacks of paperwork in front of her. We're fighting for our lives, she thought to herself. I can do this. Yet when her thoughts turned to the men and women suffering overseas, she felt a sharp pang of guilt. If she was being truly honest with herself, she had to admit that she had never been so happy as she was right then, during World War II.

Like the work of everyone on her team, Addy's work was secret; she could tell no one in her household how she spent her days at the agency. To the outside world, even to her in-laws, she was merely a clerk. Addy found that people rarely questioned her. "Oh, is that so?" they would say, before losing interest in her unimpressive job. It wasn't difficult for her to keep quiet. Addy felt special, and she knew she was going to hold on to her secrets, no matter what.

The work represented far more than a retreat to her. She couldn't imagine her life without it. Still, she knew that she was considered a placeholder. Her position as chief was too critical to entrust to a woman, and certainly not one like her, a mere high school graduate from a small town in West Virginia. All around her were men who had graduated from Ivy League institutions, who were lawyers, professors, and journalists. It was only a matter of time before administrators hired a man to fill her position. She would then have to work under him, as a deputy. Whispers about possible replacements were already circulating, and Addy knew that she needed to make herself indispensable if she wanted to keep her job. Right then, however, she was too hot to think.

"Why, you young people can't work like this," Donovan said as he looked around and then headed back to his office upstairs. Addy assumed he was getting on the phone to maintenance. Instead, a brown shoe suddenly kicked through one of the windows from the outside and her desk was covered in shards of glass. She stood, openmouthed.

"And a good thing I wasn't sitting down," she said.

The solution was pure Wild Bill-bold, immediate, and a touch reckless. Despite Donovan's age, there were moments when the years rolled right off his back. "Anyone could do it," he'd say, the excitement spreading across his face as he spoke of an operation's potential success. In reality, few were as skilled as Addy.

At the moment, Donovan was as animated as a teenager. Addy had decrypted a new message, deciphered its meaning, and then had rewritten its contents, jumbling its letters once more according to their code, so that it could travel secretly to Donovan's London office and then to Jane Burrell in France. The new intelligence would draw Donovan back across the ocean to London, where he would spend most of the next few years establishing a new group of spies, ones bent on penetration and deception.


Before President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Donovan to create from scratch the OSS (and its elite unit, X-2) in 1942, the United States had no spy agency. Even the remnants of the Black Chamber, a World War I-era codebreaking group, had been shut down decades earlier. What remained were isolated intelligence units serving the army, navy, and Treasury and State Departments, but which did not coordinate with one another. All that would have to change as the US joined the Allied forces in Europe to defeat the Axis powers. But how?

Donovan was a military man, but one who didn't stand on ceremony or even hierarchy in the manner of many career soldiers. For one thing, medals and awards were unimportant to him. Everyone knew that in World War I he had been awarded the prestigious Croix de Guerre, a French military honor. What was less wellknown was that Donovan initially refused to accept it. He would not take the accolade until it was also given to a young Jewish man equally as deserving.

Donovan also had a weakness for passionate eccentrics. He often observed that you could teach an operative strategy, but you couldn’t make him care. He was looking for the people who cared fervently... and he found them in sometimes surprising places. With little value placed on social pedigree or military rank, Donovan selected a mix of artists, military men, scientists, movie stars, and surprisingly, a multitude of women, to build the OSS. This first espionage force was instructed in languages and cloak-and-dagger techniques, and trained to kill. One observer described the ideal candidate as a "Ph.D. who can win a bar fight."

At Donovan’s side was a young woman named Eloise Page. Her friends called her Weezy, but with her boss she was always Miss Page. Where the general was stocky and imposing, Eloise was petite, with high, delicate cheekbones and bright, intense eyes. She was twenty-one years old but moved through the world with the poise of a much older woman. Part of her graceful manner came from her upbringing in Richmond, Virginia, where she grew up in what was called a "first family," a prominent and wealthy social group that traced their heritage to early colonial settlers.

The last name Page raised certain expectations within her community. Her friends and family in Richmond expected her to marry well, start a family, live in the right neighborhood, and move in the proper social circles. Had WWII not intervened, it’s possible that Eloise might have fulfilled these hopes, although not likely. She did not care much for others' expectations, often telling her mother that, "I know my own mind." Her friends would say she was "born to be a leader." A fresh college graduate with idealistic ambition, Eloise was searching for purpose. Living in London and working a low paying job under difficult wartime conditions, she had found it. She was General Donovan’s secretary.

The position was more akin to an aide-de-camp. Eloise not only organized and typed Donovan’s correspondence, but she also helped write its content, as well as discuss strategy, organize Donovan’s travel, and arrange meetings. It was a mountain of responsibility for a young woman who was habitually late for her own appointments. Still, Donovan leaned on her: A year earlier, she had played a pivotal role in Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa, and the first jointly planned operation between the United Kingdom and the United States. Hunched over maps, Donovan and Eloise debated the positions of their allies late into the night, the deadline of the upcoming mission pressuring them to consider all options.

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