Virginia Hall

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Virginia Hall
Virginia Hall.jpg
Virginia Hall receiving the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945 from OSS chief General Donovan
BornVirginia 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
Spying career
Operation(s)Operation Jedburgh
 Marie Monin
 Marie of Lyon
Other workUS Department of State (1931–39)

Virginia Hall Goillot MBE (6 April 1906 – 8 July 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",[2][3] and "Nicolas".[1] The Germans gave her the nickname Artemis. The Gestapo reportedly considered her "the most dangerous of all Allied spies".[4]

Early life[edit]

Hall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Barbara Virginia Hammel and Edwin Lee Hall.[5] She attended Roland Park Country School and then the prestigious Radcliffe College and Barnard College (Columbia University),[5] where she studied French, Italian and German. She wanted to finish her studies in Europe. With help from her parents, 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. Hall had hoped to join the Foreign Service, but suffered a setback around 1932 when she accidentally shot herself in the left leg while hunting in Turkey. The leg was later amputated from the knee down, and replaced with a wooden appendage which she named "Cuthbert". The injury foreclosed whatever chance she might have had for a diplomatic career, and she resigned from the Department of State in 1939. Thereafter she attended graduate school at American University in Washington, DC.[6]

World War II[edit]

The coming of war that year found Hall in Paris. 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.

Special Operations Executive[edit]

Les Marguerites Fleuriront ce Soir - Flickr - The Central Intelligence Agency

Hall 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 Underground in Vichy and the occupied zone of France. At the time she had the cover of a correspondent for the New York Post.[3]

When the Germans suddenly seized all of France in November 1942, Hall barely escaped to Spain.[7] Rather whimsically, her artificial foot had its own codename ("Cuthbert"). According to Dr. Dennis Casey of the U.S. Air Force Intelligence Agency, the French nicknamed her "la dame qui boite" and the Germans put "the limping lady" on their most wanted list.[8] Before making her escape, she signalled to SOE that she hoped Cuthbert would not give trouble on the way. The SOE, not understanding the reference, replied, "If Cuthbert troublesome, eliminate him". Journeying back to London (after working for SOE for a time in Madrid), in July 1943 she was quietly made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).[9]

Office of Strategic Services[edit]

French identification certificate for 'Marcelle Montagne' forged by OSS

Virginia 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 and landed her from a British MTB in Brittany (her artificial leg having kept her from parachuting in) with a forged French identification certificate for Marcelle Montagne. Codenamed "Diane", she eluded the Gestapo and contacted the French Resistance in central France. 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. Hall helped train three battalions of Resistance forces to wage guerrilla warfare against the Germans and kept up a stream of valuable reporting until Allied troops overtook her small band in September.[citation needed]

Post war[edit]

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

Hall retired in 1966 to a farm in Barnesville, Maryland.


Virginia Hall Goillot died at the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Maryland on 8 July 1982, aged 76.[10] She is buried in the Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, Baltimore County, Maryland.


For her efforts in France, General William Joseph Donovan in September 1945, personally awarded Hall a Distinguished Service Cross — the only one awarded to a civilian woman in World War II.[11][12] President Truman wanted a public award of the medal; however Hall demurred, stating she was "Still operational and most anxious to get busy." She was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).


Her story has been told in several books, including:

  • 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
  • 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 multiple-award-winning nonfiction book for ages 10 and older.[13]
  • 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.[14] She was honoured again in 2006, at the French and British embassies for her courageous work.


  • 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. ^ a b "The People of the CIA ... — Central Intelligence Agency". Retrieved 2014-07-24.
  2. ^ "CIA Kids Page – History – Virginia Hall". Central Intelligence Agency. Archived from the original on 2006-12-27.
  3. ^ a b "Obituary of Georges Bégué". Daily Telegraph. January 29, 1994. p. 15. Retrieved 2014-07-24. Georges Bégué
  4. ^ Meyer,Roger (October 2008). "World War II's Most Dangerous Spy" The American Legion Magazine p. 54
  5. ^ a b "Not Bad for a Girl from Baltimore: the Story of Virginia Hall" (PDF).
  6. ^ "Not Bad for a Girl from Baltimore: the Story of Virginia Hall" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  7. ^ Gralley, Craig R. (March 2017). "A Climb to Freedom: A Personal Journey in Virginia Hall's Steps" (PDF). Studies in Intelligence. 61 (1).
  8. ^ "Virginia Hall: "We must find and destroy her"". 27 January 2003.
  9. ^ "Special Operations". Central Intelligence Agency. 13 June 2007.
  10. ^ "Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum". Archived from the original on 2016-11-08. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  11. ^ "Today's Document from the National Archives". 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  12. ^ "Today's Document » May 12 – Virginia Hall of the OSS". 19 October 2011.
  13. ^ "The Spy with the Wooden Leg - Elva Resa Publishing". Elva Resa Publishing. Retrieved 2018-05-18.
  14. ^ "L'espionne: Virginia Hall, une Americaine dans la guerre". 2009-04-21. Retrieved 2016-12-06.

External links[edit]


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