Secret agents. Spies and Experts of Espionage! It is hard to find anybody, who isn’t intrigued by spies and enjoys a good action flick that features them. Many a times, we envision ourselves as a spy like James Bond performing heroic feats and dangerous missions. As fascinating as the world of spies is, it is unfortunate that the modern spy mania is pre-dominantly ruled by male spies leaving behind dozens of fierce female spies who deserve a mention. Without further ado, we present to you 15 famous female spies in history who are great competition to their male counterparts.
1. Mata Hari
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For long, famous female spies in history have served as undercover agents selflessly. The power struggles and espionage have gone hand in hand. One of the female Spies in history who deserves a standing ovation is Mata Hari. Christened as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle MacLeod this brave young woman who was also known as Mata Hari was born in the Netherlands. She went undercover as an exotic dancer from India. While many historians refute the claims that she was one of the many female Spies in WW1, it is believed that she was a double agent for France as well as Germany. In February 1917 she was arrested and grilled. She admitted during an interrogation that she did receive money to be a German spy. She was later executed by a firing squad in France.
2. Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan
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Many cannot perceive a princess as an international spy. And, yet Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan was just that. The great niece of Mary Baker Eddy – the founder of Christian Science and born into royalty in India, Princess Noor could have led a comfortable life replete with luxuries. She was also an author who wrote several books under the name Nora Baker. But, as luck may have it, Princess Noor was to be more than just an author, she went on to join the SOE in London and trained to become a wireless radio transmitter operator. Nora Baker was sent to France under the name Madeline and maintained communication with her Resistance Unit while the Gestapo trailed her all the way. In the year 1944 she was captured and executed as a spy. She was awarded the MBE, the Croix de Guerre, and the George Cross for her bravery and valor. She is hands down one of the bravest and famous female spies of WW2.
3. Edith Cavell
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Among the other famous spies and women in history is Edith Cavell. She was born in England and took up nursing as a profession. When the World War I broke out, she was serving in a nursing home located in Belgium. Though not a hardcore spy, she worked undercover to help soldiers from England, Belgium and France to escape from the Germans. She served as matron of the hospital, and while doing so, was able to help over 200 soldiers escape the cruelties of the Germans. However, she could not shield herself from the Germans who soon realized this, and put her on trial for harbouring the foreign soldiers rather than an espionage. She was killed by a firing squad in the year 1915, and her body was buried near the execution site despite many appeals by America and Spain to return the body to her Homeland.
4. Krystyna Skarbek
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Also known by the name of Christine Granville, Skarbek was one of the many brave female Spies of WW2. She was a Polish agent of the SOE operated by the British during World War II. She was known for her many daring and brave exploits in intelligence as well as her many warfare missions in Poland and France which was then occupied by the Nazis.
5. Nancy Wake
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Yet another of the famous female spies of WW2, Wake was a secret agent who found herself enmeshed with French in their efforts against the Germans. She worked tirelessly and selflessly to get people out of France. Wake was one of the most wanted persons and had 5 million-franc prize for her capture. She went on to become a leading figure in the French Resistance and was also one of the British Allies’ most decorated service women.
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6. Odette Hallowes
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The second world war had ravaging effects on the world. Many women served selflessly for their countries in their time of need. One such brave and celebrated members of the SOE was Odette Hallowes. She was also one of the few women who belonged to the British espionage organization and survived the Nazis. She was one of the few women in history who was awarded the George Cross for her work.
7. Lise de Baissac
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Lise Baissac was born in Mauritius and was no less than a heroine of the SOE during the World War II. She was a special agent who risked her life by running her own intelligence operations to serve her country. She was awarded a number of gallantry awards after the war and is one of the most famous female spies.
8. Vera Atkins
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A British intelligence officer, Atkins worked for the French section of the SOE between the years 1941 to 1945 when the second world war was in full force. She joined the SOE as a secretary but soon was made assistant to Col. Buckmaster. It was not long before she became a de-facto intelligence officer. Her primary role was that of recruiting and deploying of British agents.
9. Sarah Emma Edmonds
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Any list of female spies will feature Edmonds! Sarah Edmonds, who was inducted into the Michigan’s Hall of Fame was a Canadian born woman who went on to work as a spy. She wore several disguises and is known to have served as a man during the American Civil War. She uncovered confederacy agents aside from bringing in important information.
10. Mary Bowser
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A former American slave, Bowser worked for Elizabeth Van Lew, who operated a rather large spy ring for the Union Army during the times of the Civil War in America. She played a very important role in the spy ring and collected valuable intelligence for Lew.
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11. Yoshiko Kawashima
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Yoshiko Kawashima was a Chinese princess who was born in Japan and went on to become a secret agent for the Kwantung forces during the Sino-Japanese War. She is fondly known as the Eastern Mata Hari and served as a spy for Kenji Doihara upon whose orders she pursued numerous undercover missions in Manchuria disguised as a man. She was among the many female spies who were arrested and executed. She was executed in 1948 by Chinese counter-intelligence officers.
12. Chevalier d’Éon
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Chevalier d’Éon was a spy, French diplomat, soldier, and free mason who fought courageously in the Seven Years War. D’Éon publicly dressed as a man, but it is believed was born female and was remarkably good with the sword. D’Éon was able to infiltrate Empress Elizabeth of Russia’s court.
13. Belle Boyd
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Also known as La Belle Rebelle, Boyd is among the many infamous female spies in history who deserve credit for their work. During the civil war, she gathered important intelligence on troop movement and passed her findings to the Confederates. However, what made her famous was her act of warning Stonewall Jackson that averted him from letting the Union from blowing up all the important bridges around Martinsburg.
14. Barbara Lauwers
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From lawyer to patriot the journey was simply fabulous for Barbara Lauwers. Born in the year 1914 in Czechoslovakia, Barbara was a bright young woman who enrolled in Masaryk University to study law. She went on to earn a doctorate in law and began to practice junior lawyer. A chain of events led her to move to America with her husband after which she joined the U.S army. She was later assigned to the OSS and began counter-intelligence work and cobbling fake passports to enable German prisoners to spread black propaganda about Hitler. She was recognized for her work and awarded a Bronze star. Her brave spirit helped crush the spirit of the enemy and win her a name in the list of famous female spies of WW2.
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15. Marthe Cnockaert
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Overlooked no more, Marthe Cnockaert finally gets the credit she deserves. Cnockaert was born in Westrozebeke a small Belgian province. She enrolled in medical school at Ghent University, but her studies were rudely interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. A family friend who was also a spy recruited her into an Anglo-Belgian intelligence network that operated in the town of Roulers. She worked as an undercover nurse that allowed her close proximity to German military personnel. She was responsible to gather military intelligence for the British and their allies. During one of her operations her cover was blown and she was sentenced to death. Due to her Iron Cross Honor, her sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment. However, later in 1918 she was released when the Armistice with Germany was announced.
These were but a few of the many famous female spies in history who cared little for their own lives and put all they had on the line to serve their country courageously. Some were executed, some lived on to tell their stories, but these women will forever be etched in the wall of fame of the most courageous women mankind has seen.