City Dedicates Historical Marker Honoring Elizebeth Smith Friedman

Posted Thursday, August 26, 2021

20210826 ESF Historical Marker

A new historical marker in Memorial Park pays tribute to Huntington native Elizebeth Smith Friedman. Click here to view more photos.

HUNTINGTON – A new historical marker was unveiled Thursday afternoon at Memorial Park honoring a Huntington native whose expertise in codebreaking was critical to the outcome of the Second World War.

The groundbreaking work of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who was born in Huntington on August 26, 1892, has gained national acclaim in recent years after documents detailing her role and accomplishments in World War II were declassified nearly three decades after her death.

An Indiana University press release referred to Friedman as America’s first female cryptanalayst.

Born in 1892, Friedman was a linguist from an early age and eventually earned a degree in English literature from Hillside College in Michigan. She became involved in codebreaking when she met millionaire businessman George Fabyan, owner of Riverbank Laboratories, one of the first facilities in the U.S. founded for the study of cryptography. There, Friedman honed her skills and met William Friedman, the man she would eventually marry.

When the U.S. entered World War I, Friedman and her husband led the first code-breaking unit in America, writing the book on code breaking for the U.S. Army and teaching the first cryptography classes to soldiers in WWI. Following the war, she began working for the government, and in the 1920s, Friedman ran a cryptanalytic unit under the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor illicit smuggling rings, where she intercepted and solved the coded messages of mobsters and criminal gangs, delivering them to the Coast Guard. She was the first woman to ever lead such an initiative.

During World War II, Friedman decrypted messages that had been sent using the infamous German Enigma machines, destroying an entire spy network across South America. However, J. Edgar Hoover took credit for the discovery, and with much of her work classified, Friedman took the real story to her grave.

Her accomplishments and involvement in World War II were finally acknowledged when documents were declassified in 2008, [more than] 20 years after her passing.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution honoring Friedman’s work as a cryptanalyst and her contributions to the field in April 2019, and the U.S. Coast Guard announced in 2020 that it will name a ship now under construction in her honor. Friedman died in 1980 at the age of 88.

Thursday’s dedication ceremony was hosted by the City of Huntington, Indiana University and the Indiana Historical Bureau. Speakers at the event included Fred Cate, IU Vice President for Research; Laurie Burns McRobbie, founder of the IU Foundation's Women's Philanthropy Leadership Council; Mayor Richard Strick; prepared remarks from marker applicant Justin Troutman; Casey Pfeiffer, historical marker program director for the Indiana Historical Bureau; and Chris Atchison, grandson of Elizebeth Smith Friedman.

Several of Elizebeth Smith Friedman's family members were in attendance.

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