I discovered an interesting newspaper article from 1918 on the subject of women spies, and thought it might be fun to share with readers of my blog.
While transcribing the article from the scanned (public domain) newspaper, I couldn’t help but think the topic would make for a great short story. Someday, I may add it to my laundry list.
Today, war propaganda is low key, if it exists at all, and the mass media opinion seems generally liberal and anti-Nationalist. When did we stop being patriotic and protective?
Interested in history? Consider subscribing to the Library of Congress newsletter as I do. It’s a wonderful resource and could be inspirational.
The Love Tricks of the Woman Spy
How the Sinister Fascination of Beautiful Femininity Is Used to Advance the Deadly Game of Stealing War Secrets
By Barbara Craydon
The Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore, Okla)., February 13, 1918
A woman, young and fair, and dressed in the last word of the mode, walks slowly through the corridor of a great hotel. The silver-fox furs about her graceful neck set off all of its alluring curves. Her gown is of the sort that a debutante might wear at an Assembly ball. Her bare arm is placed, with just that suggestion of pressure that inspires hope, over that of a young man in khaki. The music iso playing a dreamy waltz, and they chat with the artless carelessness of the really young. There is a waltz; maybe a kiss, and the woman disappears in her own car, and the man sends memory backward to an hour as one might recall the bouquet of a wonderful wine.
Two weeks pass and a torpedo hastens along from a submarine to meet a great ship, carrying its hundreds of men, and its millions of treasure.
Does the mind make its connection between the two? Hardly.
It is difficult to reconcile the weapons of love, of grace and of all that goes to make life wonderful with the killing of the human species, and yet, from the artful conversation of the artless maid with the young man in khaki came the direction of the torpedo that went on its life-taking mission.
In war, truly, the female of the species is more deadly than the male.
In all the annals of the great war that is shaking the world, there is nothing half so fascinating, nor yet half so strange, as the part that the woman spy is playing in the gigantic game that may remake the map of the world.
In every great hotel in America, where the wealthy, the fashion and the soldier blood of the particular locality come for display and for recreation , the great secret force of Wilhelmstrasse has its woman on guard. She is never what one might think, for one must always recall the German idea, as expressed by the old general whose subordinate brought in a man under the charge of being a spy.
“Why did you arrest him?” asked the old general.
“Because he looked like an Englishman,” said the younger man.
“Fool,” said the general, “that is the LAST thing in the world that an English spy will look like.”
One may take the suggestion at is full face value, for the last thing in the world that a German spy will look like in this country will be a German.
The Ever Present Charmer
That is why the German female spy, dressed in the last echo of the fashion, is the most dangerous of all the elements of warfare that have been brought to bear in the great struggle. And she is by no means a creature of modern warfare. Women dared and died for their loves in the old days, when feudal barons rode at large, and left their own homes, firesides and blood kin to betray a land for a love. It is the fate of things. Astute old Bismarck, looking to this contingency, decreed that no German officer might marry a woman of foreign blood, and he decreed by the book of experience, in which he had delved deeply while the midnight oil burned without regard to the oil trust’s revenue.
All of which leads one to consider the danger of the secret woman agent in our midst; and she is present in every locality in America where there is work to be done for the winning of the war. Her business is grim and sure.
If the young man in khaki, first mentioned in this story, had followed the will-o’-the-wisp that led him on to the dance, he would have found her late at night with a man whose head had been touched by the frost of time, whose mind had not been fogged with wine, who was merely waiting, waiting, for the butterfly who was to bring, on her golden wings, the pollen of Death. Ever, in the unobtrusive background of the woman spy, is the man with the thin, gray hair, whose knowledge of the world has been gained by living many years among many people, and by studying for many years what people did in the ages before he was born.
The importance of this picture cannot be too strongly painted. Gen. Pershing, in his latest order to the Americans in France, warned against the woman of the soldier’s leisure.
And for concrete instances?
But the other day there was arrested in Chattanooga, Tenn., a point near the mobilization camp at Chickamauga, and a central place int he great iron and coal district of the South, the Baroness Iona Zollner. On the western front in France her husband was fighting in the ranks of the German army. He was scanning the horizon day by day and night by night for a sign by which his men might strike the allied forces. She was the daughter of old Wilhelm Pickardt, a New York millionaire, and, by the travesty of fate, a son by her first husband was a cadet at the United States Naval Academy.
With the woman was a young lieutenant of the American army, who admitted that he had been charmed by the grace of the woman whose heart was in the locket of the German officer on the western front.
The beautiful woman had in her possession a secret code book and letters that showed that she had more than a passing interest in what the American army was engaged in. She was interned at once by order of the federal authorities.
The Fascinating Madame “H”
By far the most fascinating of all the women held in this country since the opening of the war—perhaps because of the great mystery that attaches to personality and her operations—is a woman who is only known to the records as Madame “H.” She was taken at San Francisco by a presidential warrant, which is the last word in processes for the apprehension of accused persons.
Yet, it is well known that she is a woman of high social position, of the most perfect education and grace. She is described as a beautiful brunette, at the most dangerous age in life—the ripe, full-blown era of 35, when women no longer wonder at the mysteries of life, and only long to defer the inevitable day when they will become memories. It is the age when women as lovers are irresistible, as as spies most dangerous. There is little that is hidden from them, and much that they can, with the camouflage of the toilet, hide.
It is this woman, so runs the story, who sent Franz Shulenberg, said to be the master spy of the Germans in the west, on his mission to this country, and she is charged with being the guiding hand, under the direction of the inevitable old man with the thin, gray hair, or many of the chief spies of the whole country. Madame “H” is said to have been a part and parcel of the Wolf von Igel spy nest, which had its aerie in Wall Street until a band of Secret Service men broke in one day and seized the safe, the secret codes and more important secrets of international state than anybody dreams of existing.
The Wide Spell of Mischief
Among the plans of the band under her control was a mysterious scheme for getting wireless communication with the great German plat at Nauen, Germany, which used to work directly with Sayville before the Navy took charge of the American station. As the narrative proceeds, the band has a big wireless station on one of the lofty peaks of Mexico, and from it, using the Goldschmidt invention to send out of the tuning pitch of watching stations at Arlington, Sayville, Pensacola and on the ships at sea, was relaying to Nauen the reports of the spy collection.
And still further, they were working through Honolulu and the Orient, with the result of getting connection through Russia to the German people, making a double, round-the-world scheme of getting reports back to the grim gentlemen who sit day by day in the Grosse general staff office and peruse the comments of men and women in all parts of the world.
Under this mysterious woman’s spell the revolt in India was hatched, and insurrection was planned against the British rule.
There had already come many striking evidences of the woman spy’s work. Miss Ida Mullerthal, young, beautiful and bewitching, in love with Lt. Johann Schorvder, an ambitious but moneyless officer, had been caught in the act of taking the fortification plans of Posen through the lines.
For the lover of her sweetheart she permitted him to tattoo with India ink upon her beautiful back the gun positions, the emplacements and the munition stations of the post.
In Brooklyn the authorities held up the mail of Arid Amundsen, a pretty girl of 20 who was found writing seemingly harmless letted to her Scandinavian sweetheart, and one every side there has come the warning:
“Watch the woman spy; she is the most dangerous of the species.”