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Pioneering Women in Cryptology DeDieu, Lauren


Abstract: Riverbank Laboratories - a think-tank outside of Chicago, Illinois - was one of the only U.S. facilities to seriously study cryptology in the early 1900’s. It was also home to several talented women who would go on to become leaders in cryptology. Elizebeth Smith Friedman and Agnes Meyer Driscoll were two of these women.

Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892 – 1980), an English major and poetry enthusiast, began working at Riverbank in 1916. It was here that her love affair with cryptology began. She was hired to analyze Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets in the hope of finding a hidden cipher that would reveal that Sir Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare’s work. She would go on to work for the U.S. Navy, Treasury Department, and Coast Guard where she cracked thousands of codes. She is often credited as being America’s first female cryptanalyst and as one of the most remarkable women to ever work for the U.S. government.

Agnes Meyer Driscoll (1889 – 1971), a mathematics major, began her career as a high school teacher and enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War I. She began learning about cryptography in the Code and Signal Section and travelled to Riverbank to continue her studies in 1920. She spent over 40 years in cryptology, led the attack on several Japanese naval systems, and was the Navy’s principal cryptanalyst for many years.

In this talk, we will dive deeper into the lives and careers of female pioneers in cryptology like Elizebeth Smith Friedman and Agnes Meyer Driscoll. We will examine examples of codes they broke and will discuss their impact in the field of cryptography.

About the speaker: Lauren DeDieu is a mathematics instructor at the University of Calgary. She was a MathCEP Postdoc at the University of Minnesota from 2016-2017 and completed her Ph.D. at McMaster University in 2016. Lauren’s research area lies in the intersection of algebraic geometry and combinatorics. She also has a strong interest in tertiary mathematics education. Lauren is wildlife enthusiast and enjoys taking pictures of squirrels and birds.

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