Bravery through espionage

Published 2:12 pm Monday, July 22, 2019

Espionage or spying can affect the security of a country or turn the tide in a war. It can be considered treason depending on whose perspective it is. The country who benefits from the information gathered wouldn’t consider it treason, yet if you are the one being spied on that’s a different story.

In many wars throughout history espionage played a role in their outcomes. The Civil War and World War II are prime examples. We have some very brave and strong women who participated in espionage to aid in the cause of freedom. I wonder if I could have had the strength and courage to gather information like that? Would you? Elizabeth Van Lew had to know that obtaining intel for the Union in the Civil War would cause ostracism from her neighbors but her abolitionist ideals propelled her to do so in spite of the possible consequences. Gathering information can change the outcome of a war but if you are caught there can be dire consequences.

Mary Elizabeth Bowser had gained her freedom from Van Lew but when asked for her help in her spy work she agreed. Bowser assumed the role of a slave and with her being literate, she could gather information by reading letters and listening to conversations which proved invaluable. Finally, Josephine Baker actress extraordinaire undertook this endeavor while living in Paris during World War II. Her fame enabled her access to people she could converse with at parties passing on information she obtained using invisible ink on sheet music. There are differences between the three ladies in that Baker was awarded a position of sub lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary in the French Air Force while Van Lew and Bowser’s records of service were erased from existence — yet later they were inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1993 and 1995, respectively.

Espionage as we have learned throughout history is dangerous and perhaps necessary in many instances. I believe that it takes dedication and love of your country to fight to protect its values and lives of its citizens. From various perspectives we can determine how we see ourselves and how the world views us.

Judy Moore is a tour guide with The Central Museum and can be reached at