Open main menu

Virginia Hall Goillot DSC Croix de Guerre 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]

Virginia Hall

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

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


Early lifeEdit

Virginia 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), where she studied French, Italian and German.[5] 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 birds 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.[5]

World War IIEdit

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 ExecutiveEdit

Les Marguerites Fleuriront ce Soir by Jeffrey W. Bass

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, in Toulouse and then Lyon, using the cover of a correspondent for the New York Post.[3]

Part of Peter Churchill’s first mission in France in January/February 1942 was to deliver 300,000 francs to Georges Duboudin «Charles», organiser of the SPRUCE network in Lyon, and Hall introduced Churchill to him. Having completed his mission, Churchill returned to England via Spain and, since couples aroused less suspicion, Hall accompanied him by train to Perpignan for him to cross the Pyrenees on foot and she returned to Lyon.[6] In his second mission in April 1942 Churchill dropped off four SOE agents on the Cote d'Azur by submarine, including Edward Zeff «Matthieu», wireless operator for the SPRUCE network who, after travelling to Lyon, was introduced by Hall to the network.[6]

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.[7] After the Germans suddenly seized all of France in November 1942, many arrests were made and Hall knew she had to leave immediately and 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.[8] Rather whimsically, she had given her artificial foot its own codename ("Cuthbert") and 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". After arriving in Spain she was arrested by the Spanish authorities for illegally crossing the border, but the US Embassy eventually secured her release. After working for SOE for a time in Madrid, she returned to London in July 1943 where she was quietly made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).[9]

Office of Strategic ServicesEdit

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.[10][11][12]

Post warEdit

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.


For Virginia Hall's 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.[13][14] President Truman wanted a public award of the medal; however Hall demurred, stating she was "Still operational and most anxious to get busy."[10] 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.[15] She was honoured again for her courageous work in 2006, on the 100th anniversary of her birth, by the French and British ambassadors in Washington.[16] Hall was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame in 2019.[17]


Virginia Hall Goillot died at the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Maryland, on 8 July 1982, aged 76.[18] She is buried in the Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, Baltimore County, Maryland.


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.[10]
  • 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 non-fiction book for ages 10 and older.[19]
  • 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]
  • A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of WWII’s Most Dangerous Spy, Virginia Hall by Sonia Purnell (2019) Hachette UK.[11]
  • 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.[21]
  • Hall of Mirrors: Virginia Hall: America's Greatest Spy of WWII by Craig Gralley (2019) Chrysalis Books, ISBN 978-1-733541-50-3.[22]

Liberté: A Call to Spy is the first feature film about Virginia Hall.[23] It had its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June 2019, commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day.[24][25][26] Hall is portrayed by Equity's Sarah Megan Thomas and the film is directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher. Another film about Hall's life, A Woman of No Importance, based on the book by Sonia Purnell and starring Daisy Ridley as Hall with J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot producing, was announced in 2017.[27][28] It is currently in developement and has yet to move into production.[29]


  • 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 c "Not Bad for a Girl from Baltimore: the Story of Virginia Hall" (PDF).
  6. ^ a b Of their own Choice, Peter Churchill, Hodder and Stoughton, 1952
  7. ^ "Virginia Hall: "We must find and destroy her"". 27 January 2003.
  8. ^ Gralley, Craig R. (March 2017). "A Climb to Freedom: A Personal Journey in Virginia Hall's Steps" (PDF). Studies in Intelligence. 61 (1).
  9. ^ "Special Operations". Central Intelligence Agency. 13 June 2007.
  10. ^ a b c Pearson, Judith L. (2014). The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy. Diversion Books. ISBN 9781626812925.
  11. ^ a b Purnell, Sonia (2019). A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II. Penguin. ISBN 9780735225305.
  12. ^ Purnell, Sonia (April 9, 2019). "Virginia Hall Was America's Most Successful Female WWII Spy. But She Was Almost Kept From Serving". TIME Magazine.
  13. ^ "Today's Document from the National Archives". 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  14. ^ "Today's Document » May 12 – Virginia Hall of the OSS". 19 October 2011.
  15. ^ Shapira, Ian (11 July 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 3 March 2019. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  16. ^ Tucker, Abigail (December 14, 2006). "A spy gets her due". The Baltimore Sun.
  17. ^ "Virginia Hall". Maryland Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  18. ^ "Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum". Archived from the original on 2016-11-08. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  19. ^ "The Spy with the Wooden Leg - Elva Resa Publishing". Elva Resa Publishing. Retrieved 2018-05-18.
  20. ^ "L'espionne: Virginia Hall, une Americaine dans la guerre". 2009-04-21. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  21. ^ "The Lady is a Spy". Scholastic Publishing. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  22. ^ "She was a legendary spy. He worked for three CIA directors. Now he's writing a novel in her voice". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-05-18.
  23. ^ CNN, AJ Willingham. "CIA spy Virginia Hall is about to become everyone's next favorite historical hero". CNN.
  24. ^ "Liberté: A Call to Spy". Edinburgh International Film Festival.
  25. ^ "LIBERTÉ: A CALL TO SPY - World Premiere at Edinburgh Film Festival".
  26. ^ ""Liberté: A Call To Spy" Will Debut At Edinburgh International Film Festival - Top 10 Films".
  27. ^ "A Woman Of No Importance". Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  28. ^ Myre, Greg (2019-04-18). "'A Woman Of No Importance' Finally Gets Her Due". Retrieved 2019-04-18.
  29. ^ Cutler, Katharine (2019-07-01). "Daisy Ridley talks 'Ophelia' and upcoming Virginia Hall biopic". Retrieved 2019-07-03.

External linksEdit