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Virginia Hall: The Courage and Daring of "The Limping Lady"

“Miss Hall displayed rare courage, perseverance and ingenuity; her efforts contributed materially to the successful operations of the Resistance Forces in support of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in the liberation of France.”

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President Harry Truman

Citation for Distinguished Service Cross awarded to Virginia Hall, 1945

Her life reads like a spy novel. From overcoming the loss of her leg to working clandestinely behind enemy lines for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), she’s a true American hero.

Who is this brave woman? Some knew her as “Marie Monin,” “Germaine,” “Diane,” “Camille,” and even “Nicolas,” but we know her as Virginia Hall.

During WWII, Virginia organized agent networks, assisted escaped prisoners of war, and recruited French men and women to run safe houses—staying one step ahead of the Gestapo, who wanted desperately to apprehend “The Limping Lady.”

For her courage and ingenuity, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross—the only civilian woman to be so honored.

Virginia then went on to become one of only a handful of senior women in CIA’s clandestine service until her mandatory retirement in 1966 at the age of 60. And she did it all despite having a prosthetic leg, which she named Cuthbert.

A Sense of Adventure

Virginia Hall Goillot was born in Baltimore, Maryland. As a young woman who had a gift for languages and a sense of adventure, Virginia wanted to join the foreign service.

After attending Radcliffe and Barnard and pursuing additional studies in Europe, she signed on as a clerk at the US Embassy in Warsaw.

Her next assignment took her to Izmir, Turkey. There she suffered a serious hunting accident and lost her left leg below the knee.

The 27-year-old didn’t let that slow her down, however.

Fitted with a wooden leg, she went back to work—this time at the consulate in Venice.

While there, she asked to take the oral exam for the foreign service only to be informed that the loss of her leg was cause for rejection and that her dream of becoming a diplomat was over.

The outbreak of World War II found Virginia in France. She quickly joined the ambulance corps.

After the fall of France, she made her way through Spain and then to England, where she eventually volunteered to serve with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). SOE trained her in weapons, communications, security, and resistance activities.

During the next few years, she would become legendary for her exploits, first with SOE and then with the OSS.

A Legendary Intelligence Officer

Virginia organized agent networks, assisted escaped prisoners of war, and recruited French men and women to run safe houses—staying one step ahead of the Gestapo, who wanted desperately to apprehend “The Limping Lady.”

For her courage and ingenuity, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross—the only civilian woman to be so honored.

After the war, the 40-year-old Virginia was eager to remain in the intelligence business.

Because she spoke Italian fluently, she was dispatched to Venice, where for several years she collected and transmitted economic, financial, and political intelligence with special emphasis on the Communist movement and its leaders.

She then worked for the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), a CIA front organization associated with Radio Free Europe.

She officially began her CIA career on December 3, 1951.

For the next 15 years, she used her covert action expertise in a wide range of Agency activities, chiefly in support of resistance groups in Iron Curtain countries.

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