Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: The Woman Who Smashed Codes

By Lynn Willoughby

The Woman Who Smashed Codes ~ Jason Fagone

This autobiography of Elizebeth Friedman and her husband George, taught me a whole lot about the world of secret codes, espionage, surveillance and how intelligence is gathered, – and the cryptologists who break those secret codes.  Elizebeth Friedman was among the best in the world.

She was originally recruited to work for the eccentric millionaire, George Fabyan, at his River Bank laboratory.  Here she worked to try to prove that Francis Bacon was the real talent behind the plays we attribute to William Shakespeare.  While this work seemed silly and futile, she did meet her husband and soul mate at River Bank.  They would go on to accomplish events that would change history.

She began working, somewhat reluctantly, for the US Coastguard prior to WWII.  Once prohibition was legislated, her work often entailed decrypting the codes of rum-runners and gangsters, bringing in boat loads of illegal alcohol to the USA.  

She and George worked well together and no code seemed beyond their power to take apart.  As WWII progressed, George was often abroad and he is said to be the one to break the Japanese super encoder ‘Purple”.  Both Friedmans worked on “Enigma’ and George actually worked for some time with AlanTuring at Bletchley Park.  

This is a fascinating look at history. particularry as both Friedmans were sworn to secrecy on so much of their work.  “…not even allowed to tell my grandchildren”  Elizebeth said. This book is very reminiscent of “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Thank you Jason Fagone for introducing me to Elizebeth Friedman

  • Horsemen of the Esophagus 
  • Ingenious: A True Story of Invention

Who Knew?

George Fabyan was a millionaire business man who founded a private research lab which pioneered modern cryptology.  The acoustic lab Fabyan had built still operates at The Riverbank Laboratories.

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