Elizebeth Smith Friedman was America’s first female cryptanalyst but her contributions to both the US government during Prohibition and to the world during WWI and WWII as well as her pioneering techniques in counterintelligence and profiling were often hidden from history. We want to help change that.

“Elizebeth” isn’t a typo, it’s the name her mother gave the youngest of her nine children who was born on August 26, 1892. Mama, Sopha Smith, wanted to make sure no one called her daughter “Eliza.” Elizebeth grew up in Indiana to be a smart, energetic, determined young woman who figured a way to attend college despite her father’s desire for her to stop her education after high school.

Her degree in English eventually landed her in a think tank trying to prove that Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets were authored by someone else using a cipher that was supposed to have been contained in them. This off-the-wall project led to years of work in the country’s only cryptologic laboratory, as well as marriage to a man, William Friedman, who worked alongside her.

Elizebeth used her skill at breaking codes to help keep on eye on the Germans during WWI, break-up bootleg smuggling rings during Prohibition; she brought down opium dealers, spies, and Nazis all while raising two children.

William and Elizebeth

Elizebeth survived her husband by about 11 years but passed away on October 31, 1980.

Arlington National Cemetery






The Friedmans are characters in this, book four of the Secret Breakers series


The Friedman’s papers are at the George C. Marshall Foundation and here’s a link to an interview with Elizebeth that is also there!

The Newberry Library in Chicago where Elizebeth worked and is an important location in The Time Travelers Wife.

The Shakespeare Ciphers Examined: An analysis of cryptographic systems used as evidence that some author other than William Shakespeare wrote the plays commonly attributed to him, written by the Friedmans is available to read online.

Online Cryptomuseum

How does that Enigma Machine work? Here is an explanation in words and video:

Just take a read through these smugglers and bootleggers she helped bring down! So, so many!


The International Spy Museum is open in Washington, DC, but you can do this worksheet using the pigpen cipher with the kids at home.


If you’ve never listened to Helen Zaltzman’s The Allusionist podcast, give this one a try (we both love this podcast about language.) This episode about the creation of a priori languages.


There aren’t any movies about Elizebeth, but Beckett loves these which are about people doing the same work she did in England during WWII:


Or this series that is available on Amazon Prime-

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Music from the episode: The midsong is Spy v. Spy by the Sound of 73 and the endsong is Who Done It by The Proper Authorities