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Virginia Hall’s Life as a One-Legged Spy

French Resistance

Virginia Hall was a female spy for the U.S. and England during World War II. She conducted undercover operations that assisted the resistance in France and she aided in sabotage missions near the end of the war. She is known for being brave, resilient and intelligent. Despite her gender and a significant disability, she never walked away from her chosen profession.

Virginia Hall was born on April 6, 1906 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was the youngest daughter of theater owner, Edwin Lee Hall and his wife, Barbara. Virginia’s early life was rather typical of a child of relatively wealthy parents. She attended Roland Park Country School and then decided that she wanted to study language in college. She first attended Radcliffe College. She went on to enroll in Bernard College and attended classes there from 1924 to 1926. She became fluent in German, French and Italian.

Virginia Hall got her first government job in 1931. She went to Warsaw, Poland to work as a clerk at the American Embassy there. While working in this capacity, she traveled to Tallin, Estonia, Vienna, Austria and Izmir, Turkey. Virginia was hunting in Turkey when she accidentally dropped her shotgun which discharged into her foot. By the time medical help had arrived the wound had become gangrenous. Her leg was amputated and she was fitted with a wooden one.

Virginia Hall did not want to give up her work with the government, but the State Department had a policy that did not allow them to employ people with amputated limbs. She resigned in May of 1939. She went to work in France with the French Ambulance Service Unit. She had to leave the country when the Nazis invaded in May of 1940. She went from France to England, where she began working as a clerk at the embassy there.

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While Virginia Hall was working in England, she was recruited for the Special Operations Executive. The SOE was a British group designed to infiltrate countries that were under the control of the Nazis and conduct spy operations (among other things) from the inside. The SOE sent her back to France. There she pretended to be a reporter for the New York Post while staying in Vichy. What she was really doing was aiding the organization of French resistance movements. She later went to Lyons and stayed there until 1942 when the Nazis began searching for her.

From France Virginia Hall traveled to Madrid, an arduous journey done largely on foot. This must have been quite a trying task for a woman with one leg. Once she got set up in Madrid, she resumed her work as a spy. This time she posed as a Chicago Times reporter. She disliked being there and asked her superiors if she might return to France. They sent to her back to England where she received further training. At the close of her training she was moved to the U.S. Office of Strategic Services.

The OSS sent Virginia Hall back to France. This time she operated out Haute-Loire. The Nazis had still not forgotten the “woman with a limp,” however. She had to outsmart the Gestapo to avoid getting caught. Nonetheless, she managed to assist the resistance in the area and be the first person to report the change in location of the German General Staff Headquarters from Lyons to Le Puy to the Allies. In August of 1944 she became part of a team controlling three battalions of French forces. They were charged with sabotaging enemy communications. Virginia Hall and her comrades were successful.

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Following her brave efforts in France, Virginia Hall was nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross by the OSS’ European Theater Commander, Colonel James R. Forgan. She was awarded the medal in 1945. Six years later, at the age of 45, Virginia Hall enlisted in the CIA. She worked for the CIA until her retirement in 1966. She passed away in 1982 at the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Washington, D.C. She was buried in the Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville, Maryland.