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Elizabeth Bentley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109688).

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Bentley, Elizabeth Terrill (01 January 1908–03 December 1963), Communist party activist and government witness, was born in New Milford, Connecticut, the daughter of Charles Prentiss Bentley, a newspaper editor and department store manager, and Mary Burrill, a schoolteacher. After growing up in small towns in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, Bentley enrolled in Vassar College and in 1930 received an undergraduate degree in English. While at Vassar, she became involved in a variety of Socialist causes but did not demonstrate any interest in more radical left-wing ideas. For two years following graduation, she taught languages at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, but left in 1932 for Columbia University, where she earned her M.A. in Italian in 1935. While working on her graduate degree, she accepted a fellowship that took her to the University of Florence for the 1933–1934 academic year....

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Blanchfield, Florence Aby (01 April 1884–12 May 1971), nurse and army officer, was born in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the daughter of Joseph Plunkett Blanchfield, a stonemason and cutter, and Mary Louvenia Anderson, a nurse. In 1903 Blanchfield entered South Side Hospital Training School for Nurses in Pittsburgh, graduating in 1906. During postgraduate work at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Dr. ...

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Belle Boyd. Albumen silver print, c. 1864, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Boyd, Belle (09 May 1844–11 June 1900), Confederate spy, was born in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), the daughter of Reed Boyd, a store owner and manager of a farm, and Mary Rebecca Glenn. Both parents were from prominent Virginia families, and young Belle (christened Isabelle) was educated at Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore. When the Civil War broke out, she returned to her home and began raising funds for the Confederate army....

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Claire Lee Chennault Right, with Major General Gilbert Cheves, at the start of a softball game in China, each serving as captain of a team drawn from the men under their command, 1945. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-SC-203553).

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Chennault, Claire Lee (06 September 1893–27 July 1958), military officer and airline executive, was born in Commerce, Texas, the son of John Stonewall Jackson Chennault, a small-scale cotton grower, and Jessie Lee. Chennault grew up on a small farm in Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana. His mother died when he was eight years old. Two years later, his father married Lottie Barnes, a local schoolteacher. Educated in the nearby town of Gilbert, he entered Louisiana State University in 1909. Shortly thereafter, his stepmother, who had persuaded him to continue his education, died. “I was alone again,” he later wrote, “and really never found another companion whom I could so completely admire, respect, and love.”...

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Jacqueline Cochran Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105221).

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Cochran, Jacqueline (1910?–09 August 1980), pioneer aviator and business executive, was born in Muscogee, Florida, near Pensacola. Her parents both died during her infancy, and she was raised by foster families with whom she worked in the lumber mills of the Florida panhandle. By the age of fifteen she had also worked in a Columbus, Georgia, cotton mill and learned how to cut hair in a beauty shop. Cochran took nursing training at a hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1925 to 1928, but by 1930 she had returned to Pensacola to work in a beauty salon. In 1932 she traveled to Philadelphia to work in a beauty shop and then moved in the same year to New York City, where her skill earned her a job at Antoine’s, a well-known Saks Fifth Avenue beauty shop. For the next four years she worked for this business, spending every winter working in Antoine’s branch in Miami Beach, Florida. She met ...

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Coplon, Judith (17 May 1921–26 February 2011), Soviet spy during the Cold War, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her father Samuel Coplon was a respected toy merchant; her mother Rebecca Moroh Coplon was a milliner. She and her older brother Bertram were raised in modest but comfortable circumstances. The petite Judith (just over five feet tall as an adult) was vivacious, pretty, and smart. At Brooklyn’s James Madison High School, she won awards, and her brilliant academic record earned her a scholarship to Barnard College. She threw herself into extracurricular activities, joined a communist youth group, and became an editor of the school newspaper. A history major fascinated by the development of the Soviet state, she compiled a superior academic record and graduated cum laude in 1943....

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Edmonds, Sara Emma Evelyn ( December 1841–05 September 1898), soldier, was born in New Brunswick, Canada, the daughter of Isaac Edmonson (later Edmondson) and Elizabeth Leeper, farmers. As a child Edmonds worked in the fields in boys’ clothing, becoming a proficient horsewoman and markswoman. When her father arranged a marriage for her with a neighbor, Edmonds fled home with the help of her mother and worked in a millinery shop until fear of detection and desire for adventure caused her to cross-dress and pose as “Franklin Thompson.” As Thompson she was hired to sell Bibles for a Hartford, Connecticut, publishing firm in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia....

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Greenhow, Rose O’Neal (1815?–01 October 1864), Confederate spy, was born in Montgomery County, Maryland. Many O’Neals, their surnames variously spelled, inhabited the area. Speculation centers on a planter, John O’Neale, slain by a slave in 1817, and his wife, Eliza Henrietta (maiden name unknown), as her parents. In early adolescence she and a sister went to Washington, D.C., to live with an aunt, Mrs. H. V. Hill, who managed a popular boardinghouse on Capitol Hill. There she was tutored in the social graces as well as academic subjects and met many of the nation’s powerful. Darkly beautiful, vivacious, and quick-witted, she was very popular and dubbed “Wild Rose.” The boarder she admired most was ...

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Joy Bright Hancock. Right, with Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal. In uniform of the rank of captain. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Hancock, Joy Bright (04 May 1898–20 August 1986), U.S. Navy officer, was born Joy Bright in Wildwood, New Jersey, the daughter of William Henry Bright, a banker, and Priscilla Buck. After attending high school in Wildwood, she entered the Pierce School of Business Administration in Philadelphia; in 1918 she enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. As a yeoman first class, she served as a clerk and then chief yeoman at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation yards located in Camden, New Jersey, later transferring to the U.S. Naval Air Station at Cape May, New Jersey. After the end of World War I she worked at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, and the Department of the Navy in Washington....

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Harrison, Marguerite (23 October 1878–16 July 1967), journalist, spy, world traveler, and writer, was born Marguerite Elton Baker in Baltimore, Maryland, to Elizabeth Elton Livezey and Bernard Baker. Her wealthy family made its fortune in transatlantic shipping, and she spent many summers in Europe, where she enhanced her language skills. Her education was a combination of private tutors and attendance at St. Timothy’s School in Catonsville, Maryland, where she experienced some social awkwardness, but she also learned much about the wider world that would influence the rest of her life. After high school, she attended Radcliffe College for one semester and then in 1901 quickly married Thomas Harrison against her parents’ wishes. In contrast to her family’s high standing and social connections, Thomas came from a family of lesser means and status....

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Grace Hopper Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111439).

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Hopper, Grace Brewster Murray (09 December 1906–01 January 1992), naval officer and pioneer developer of computer languages, was born in New York City, the daughter of Walter Fletcher Murray and Mary Campbell Van Horne. Her grandfathers were important in shaping her future—one was a navy admiral, and the other an engineer with New York City. After attending Hardridge School in Plainfield, New Jersey, she graduated in 1928 with election to Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College, with a degree in mathematics and physics. She completed a mathematics M.A. in 1930 at Yale and earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and mathematical physics, also from Yale, in 1934....

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Mildred McAfee Horton. Charcoal and chalk on paper, 1942, by Samuel Johnson Woolf. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Horton, Mildred McAfee (12 May 1902–02 September 1994), college president and director of the WAVES, was born Mildred Helen McAfee in Parkville, Missouri, the youngest of three daughters of the Reverend Dr. Cleland Boyd McAfee and Harriet Brown McAfee. Her father, a leading theologian and activist in the Presbyterian church, taught at the town’s Park College, which had been founded by her grandfather. When Cleland McAfee moved to Chicago as minister of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, Mildred attended the prestigious Francis W. Parker School. She then enrolled at Vassar College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1920....

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Love, Nancy (14 February 1914–22 October 1976), aviator and government official, was born Hannah Lincoln Harkness in Houghton, Michigan, to Robert Bruce Harkness, a successful medical doctor, and Alice Graham Chadbourne Harkness. Nicknamed Nancy by her family, she graduated from Milton Academy in Massachusetts and then enrolled in Vassar College in 1931. She withdrew from Vassar in 1934, however, as her parents could no longer afford the tuition because of the Great Depression....