The Role of Female Cryptanalysts from 1914 to 1946

Norburn, Bryony (2021) The Role of Female Cryptanalysts from 1914 to 1946. Doctoral thesis, University of Buckingham.

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This thesis shows that the history of cryptanalysis in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century has focussed on the contribution of men to the virtual exclusion of that of women, and produces evidence to prove that, from the First World War onwards, women, although in a minority, were working at the same level as their male counterparts, despite their lack of mention in the published literature which generally holds that only men worked as cryptanalysts during this period. The present research identifies that this was not the case, and that though the number of confirmed female cryptanalysts remains small and elusive, these women were nonetheless important for the role that they played. This thesis examines published work on British cryptanalysis between 1914 and 1946, demonstrating that these accounts are almost exclusively by men and about men. The research presented uses original documentation and interviews to advance and place on record knowledge about female cryptanalysts who worked in high-level codebreaking during time both of war and peace in a gendered approach. The analysis sets out the case studies of six women - four cryptanalysts, one linguist and a decoder - who typify the roles that women held in cryptanalysis between 1914 and 1946, providing an in-depth study of their backgrounds and roles they carried out for the British Admiralty’s Room 40, the War Office’s MI1(b) and HushWAACs, and the Foreign Office’s Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). The thesis provides a detailed historiographical chronology in a gendered approach of the women’s role in cryptanalysis from the beginnings of modern codebreaking in the First World War, through the interwar creation of GC&CS, to the vast cryptanalytical organisation at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, setting out the context of relevant literature and archival materials. Definitions are derived for key terms whose meanings have changed over the period, causing confusion and erroneous conclusions to be drawn, and key themes are identified which can be used in the identification of future female cryptanalysts. This thesis clearly identifies that women were working as high-grade cryptanalysts during the period 1914 to 1946, and offers pointers and analytical tools to potential further identifications in future research.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Women ; Gender ; Codebreaking ; Cryptanalytic Definitions ; Cryptanalysts
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Divisions: School of Humanities & Social Sciences > Economics
Depositing User: Nicola Button
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2022 10:40
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2022 10:40

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