Virginia Hall

Virginia Hall Goillot DSC Croix de Guerre MBE (April 6, 1906 July 8, 1982) was an American spy with the British Special Operations Executive during World War II and later with the American Office of Strategic Services and the Special Activities Division of the Central Intelligence Agency. She was known by many aliases, including "Marie Monin," "Germaine," "Diane," "Marie of Lyon," "Camille,"[1][2] and "Nicolas."[3] The Germans gave her the nickname Artemis, and the Gestapo reportedly considered her "the most dangerous of all Allied spies."[4]

Virginia Hall

Virginia Hall receiving the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945 from OSS chief General Donovan
Virginia Hall

(1906-04-06)April 6, 1906
Baltimore, Maryland
DiedJuly 8, 1982(1982-07-08) (aged 76)
Rockville, Maryland
Burial placePikesville, Maryland
Alma mater
Spouse(s)Paul Gaston Goillot
Espionage activity
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Free France
Service branch
Service years1940–1966
OperationsOperation Jedburgh
Other workUS Department of State (1931–39)

Early life

Virginia Hall was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Barbara Virginia Hammel and Edwin Lee Hall.[5] She attended Roland Park Country School and then Radcliffe College and Barnard College (Columbia University), where she studied French, Italian, and German.[5] She also attended George Washington University, where she studied French and Economics. [6] She wanted to finish her studies in Europe, so she travelled the Continent and studied in France, Germany, and Austria, finally landing an appointment as a Consular Service clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland in 1931. She had hoped to join the Foreign Service, but she suffered a setback around 1932 when she accidentally shot herself in the left leg while hunting birds in Turkey. The leg was later amputated from the knee down and replaced with a wooden appendage which she named "Cuthbert". The injury ended whatever chance she might have had for a diplomatic career, and she resigned from the Department of State in 1939. She then attended graduate school at American University in Washington, DC.[5]

World War II

Hall was in Paris at the beginning of World War II. She joined the Ambulance Service before the fall of France and ended up in Vichy-controlled territory when the fighting stopped in the summer of 1940. She made her way to London and volunteered for Britain's newly formed Special Operations Executive (SOE), which sent her back to Vichy in August 1941. She spent the next 15 months there, helping to coordinate the activities of the French Resistance in Vichy and the occupied zone of France in Toulouse and then Lyon, using the cover of a correspondent for the New York Post.[2]

Part of Peter Churchill’s first mission in France in January and February 1942 was to deliver 300,000 francs to Georges Duboudin, organizer of the SPRUCE network in Lyon, and Hall introduced Churchill to him. Churchill returned to England via Spain when the mission was complete, and Hall accompanied him by train to Perpignan, since couples aroused less suspicion. He then crossed the Pyrenees on foot, and she returned to Lyon.[7] In his second mission in April 1942, Churchill dropped off four SOE agents on the Cote d'Azur by submarine, including Edward Zeff, wireless operator for the SPRUCE network; Hall introduced him to the network.[7]

The French nicknamed her "la dame qui boite" and the Germans put "the limping lady" on their most wanted list, according to Dr. Dennis Casey of the U.S. Air Force Intelligence Agency.[8] The Germans suddenly seized all of France in November 1942; they made many arrests, and Hall knew that she had to leave immediately. She narrowly escaped by train from Lyon to Perpignan, then walked over a 7,500 foot pass in the Pyrenees to Spain, covering up to 50 miles over two days in considerable discomfort.[9] She had given her artificial foot its own codename "Cuthbert", and she signalled to SOE before her escape that she hoped that Cuthbert would not give trouble on the way. The SOE did not understand the reference and replied, "If Cuthbert troublesome, eliminate him". After arriving in Spain, she was arrested by the Spanish authorities for illegally crossing the border, but the US Embassy eventually secured her release. She worked for SOE for a time in Madrid, then returned to London in July 1943 where she was quietly made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).[10]

Office of Strategic Services

Hall joined the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Special Operations Branch in March 1944 and asked to return to occupied France. She hardly needed training in clandestine work behind enemy lines, and OSS promptly granted her request. They provided her with a forged French identification certificate for Marcelle Montagne, then landed her from a British Motor Torpedo Boat in Brittany; her artificial leg prevented her from parachuting in. She eluded the Gestapo and contacted the French Resistance in central France, using the code name "Diane". She mapped drop zones for supplies and commandos from England, found safe houses, and linked up with a Jedburgh team after the Allied Forces landed at Normandy. She helped to train three battalions of Resistance forces to wage guerrilla warfare against the Germans, interfering with efforts to move troops north to reinforce the Normandy defenses. She kept up a stream of valuable reporting until Allied troops occupied the area in September; by these efforts, the Haute-Loire was the second Department of France to be liberated, after Normandy, and the first to be cleared entirely by French forces.[11][12][13]

Post war

In 1950, Hall married former OSS agent Paul Goillot. She joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1951, working as an intelligence analyst on French parliamentary affairs. She worked alongside her husband as part of the Special Activities Division. She retired to a farm in Barnesville, Maryland in 1966.


For Virginia Hall's efforts in France, General William Joseph Donovan personally awarded Hall a Distinguished Service Cross in September 1945 in recognition of her efforts in France, the only one awarded to a civilian woman in World War II.[14][15] President Truman wanted a public award of the medal, but Hall demurred, stating that she was "still operational and most anxious to get busy."[11] She was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palme by France.[16] The French and British ambassadors in Washington honored her again in 2006, on the 100th anniversary of her birth.[17] In 2016, a CIA field agent training facility was named the Virginia Hall Expeditionary Center.[12] She was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame in 2019.[18]


Hall died at the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Maryland on July 8, 1982, aged 76.[19] She is buried in the Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, Maryland.


Her story has been told in several books, including:

  • L'Espionne. Virginia Hall, une Américaine dans la guerre, by Vincent Nouzille (2007) Fayard (Paris), a French biography reviewed by British historian M.R.D. Foot in "Studies in Intelligence", Vol 53, N°1[20]
  • Hall of Mirrors: Virginia Hall: America's Greatest Spy of WWII, by Craig Gralley (2019) Chrysalis Books, ISBN 978-1-733541-50-3[21]
  • The Lady Is a Spy: Virginia Hall, World War II Hero of the French Resistance, by Don Mitchell (2019) Scholastic, ISBN 978-0-545936-12-5, a non-fiction book for ages 12–18[22]
  • The Spy with the Wooden Leg: The Story of Virginia Hall, by Nancy Polette (2012) Elva Resa Publishing, ISBN 978-1-934617-15-1, a non-fiction book for ages 10 and older[23]
  • The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy, by Judith L. Pearson (2005) The Lyons Press, ISBN 1-59228-762-X[11]
  • A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of WWII’s Most Dangerous Spy, Virginia Hall, by Sonia Purnell (2019) Hachette UK[12]

Liberté: A Call to Spy is the first feature film about Virginia Hall.[24] It had its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June 2019, commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day.[25][26][27] Hall is portrayed by Equity's Sarah Megan Thomas, and the film is directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher. The film A Woman of No Importance was announced in 2017, based on the book by Sonia Purnell and starring Daisy Ridley as Hall.[28][29] It is currently in development and has yet to move into production.[30]


  • Marcus Binney, The Women Who Lived for Danger: The Women Agents of SOE in the Second World War, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2002, ISBN 0-340-81840-9, pp. 111–38 ("Virginia Hall") and passim.


  1. "CIA Kids Page – History – Virginia Hall". Central Intelligence Agency. Archived from the original on December 27, 2006.
  2. "Obituary of Georges Bégué". Daily Telegraph. January 29, 1994. p. 15. Retrieved July 24, 2014. Georges Bégué
  3. "The People of the CIA ... — Central Intelligence Agency". Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  4. Meyer,Roger (October 2008). "World War II's Most Dangerous Spy" The American Legion Magazine p. 54
  5. "Not Bad for a Girl from Baltimore: the Story of Virginia Hall" (PDF).
  6. Sonia Purnell, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, p. 12.
  7. Of Their Own Choice, Peter Churchill, Hodder and Stoughton, 1952
  8. "Virginia Hall: "We must find and destroy her"". January 27, 2003.
  9. Gralley, Craig R. (March 2017). "A Climb to Freedom: A Personal Journey in Virginia Hall's Steps" (PDF). Studies in Intelligence. 61 (1).
  10. "Special Operations". Central Intelligence Agency. June 13, 2007.
  11. Pearson, Judith L. (2014). The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy. Diversion Books. ISBN 9781626812925.
  12. Purnell, Sonia (2019). A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II. Penguin. ISBN 9780735225305.
  13. Purnell, Sonia (April 9, 2019). "Virginia Hall Was America's Most Successful Female WWII Spy. But She Was Almost Kept From Serving". TIME Magazine.
  14. "Today's Document from the National Archives". October 19, 2011. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  15. "Today's Document » May 12 – Virginia Hall of the OSS". October 19, 2011.
  16. Shapira, Ian (July 11, 2017). "The Nazis were closing in on a spy known as 'The Limping Lady.' She fled across mountains on a wooden leg". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 3, 2019. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  17. Tucker, Abigail (December 14, 2006). "A spy gets her due". The Baltimore Sun.
  18. "Virginia Hall". Maryland Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  19. "Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum". Archived from the original on November 8, 2016. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  20. "L'espionne: Virginia Hall, une Americaine dans la guerre". April 21, 2009. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  21. "She was a legendary spy. He worked for three CIA directors. Now he's writing a novel in her voice". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
  22. "The Lady is a Spy". Scholastic Publishing. Retrieved July 3, 2019.
  23. "The Spy with the Wooden Leg - Elva Resa Publishing". Elva Resa Publishing. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
  24. CNN, AJ Willingham. "CIA spy Virginia Hall is about to become everyone's next favorite historical hero". CNN.
  25. "Liberté: A Call to Spy". Edinburgh International Film Festival.
  26. "LIBERTÉ: A CALL TO SPY - World Premiere at Edinburgh Film Festival".
  27. ""Liberté: A Call To Spy" Will Debut At Edinburgh International Film Festival - Top 10 Films".
  28. "A Woman Of No Importance". Retrieved July 3, 2019.
  29. Myre, Greg (April 18, 2019). "'A Woman Of No Importance' Finally Gets Her Due". Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  30. Cutler, Katharine (July 1, 2019). "Daisy Ridley talks 'Ophelia' and upcoming Virginia Hall biopic". Retrieved July 3, 2019.

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document " The People of the CIA ...Making an Impact: Virginia Hall".

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