Elizebeth Friedman – America’s first female cryptanalyst

Modern US cryptology origins began at Riverbank Laboratories in Geneva, IL, a suburb of Chicago. In the early 1900s, Riverbank was the only organization in the US capable of breaking secret messages and is instrumental in deciphering codes. 

Fabyan Windmill in Geneva, IL. Where it all started

Elizebeth Smith Friedman, America’s first female cryptanalyst, is an English major from Indiana. She met Richard Fabyan, an eccentric millionaire at Chicago’s Newberry research library. The meeting with Fabyan changed her life forever. Elizabeth started working on decoding the hidden messages in Shakespeare’s writings. Elizebeth met William, her future husband, who graduated with a degree in genetics and leading the department of genetics at Riverbank. 

Elizebeth introduced William to the world of Cryptology and together were the trailblazers in US cryptology.  Over the years, Elizabeth worked for the US Navy, Treasury Department, Coast Guard, helping them stop illegal alcohol and drug smuggling. She used to solve about 400 puzzles a week. She made her mark in the world of cryptology. Not many knew about her until recent times as some of her work was marked classified, and other organizations took credit for some of her work. 

Richard Fabyan deserves some credit for identifying and bringing in talent to Riverbank laboratories. Ancient Kings or queens often employ poets in their courts or build monuments and places of worship, so their names are etched forever in history. Fabyan used his wealth to spend on science to achieve technological advancements than splurging on luxuries. He built an idea factory 

Jason Fagone has chronicled the fascinating tales of Elizebeth’s life and her achievements in his book “The Woman Who Smashed Codes.”