Before the CIA had women at the helm, a philanthropist and abolitionist, Elizabeth Van Lew (1818-1900), ran an underground spy network called the “Richmond Underground” which included clerks in the War and Navy Departments of the Confederacy.
During the Civil War she relayed valuable Confederate military secrets regarding troop movements to Union officers.
Her network also helped Union prisoners escape and Van Lew even hid some prisoners in her home. Although many espionage contributions are not fully known, she will be recognised on the Smithsonian Channel series called America’s Hidden Stories, Southern Women, Union Spies airing the first week of February.
For more information about Elizabeth Van Lew and the role women played in the Civil War click here.