Female Spies in History by Kathleen Bittner Roth

Female Spies in History

Female spies have been known throughout the centuries in royal court, eavesdropping on conversations held at balls and in corridors, but did you know that the use of women as spies was commonplace in both England and America during the 19th century? In England, the brunt of spying took place in industry, while in America, the greatest use of female spies took place during the Civil War.

I find this particularly interesting because the Civil War occurred during the morally repressive Victorian era. Every action, dress codes, even education for women were so constricted that even the language back then became repressive – one must never refer to a table leg or piano leg. Instead, they were called table limbs, or a piano’s limb. Every action a woman took was governed by the repressed Victorian mores, yet this era became a high season for female spies.

While some women took over teaching jobs, farming, and managing shops in the absence of their men gone off to war, some women moved close to the troops in the form of nursing, or raising supplies for the troops. But there were women who supported their country in a far more dangerous manner—they became spies. Many of these brave souls baked messages in bread or pies, and carried them across enemy lines with nary a blink of an eye. All of them possessed weapons or spying devices of one kind or another. Had they been caught, they’d have been hanged by the neck until dead. Belle Boyd was one of these bold spies. She would often show up at her father’s hotel and eavesdrop on Union officers registered there. Bold as they came, she would deliver her information to General Stonewall Jackson himself, moving through Union lines, so close to battle that it’s been said she’d returned more than once with bullet holes in her skirts.

Scandalous was not even the word for what these women were doing. If found out, they were considered no better than a common prostitute. Some of these women who performed a great service to their country were born into wealthy families, yet after the war, they were shunned by polite society, despite their heroism.

Some of the spy paraphernalia these valiant women carried was quite clever—as shown below:

Victorian spy camera hidden inside a pocket watch Watch camera









pocket watch pistolA one-shot pocket watch pistol







A ring gun with extra bullets carried in a bullet necklace Pistol ring










victorian fan Take a look at the daggers in this ladies fan!






Kathleen Bittner Roth creates evocative historical romance featuring characters forced to draw on their strength of spirit to overcome adversity and find unending love. Her own fairy tale wedding in a Scottish castle led her to her current residence in Budapest, Hungary, considered one of Europe’s most romantic cities. A PAN member of Romance Writers of America®, Kathleen was a finalist in the prestigious Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® contest. You can find Kathleen on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and on her website www.kathleenbittnerroth.com.


PORTRAIT OF A LADY, Book two in Kathleen’s Those Marvelous Malverns series (also a stand alone) released March 21st. Description: A young widow returns to her childhood home after a forced absence and faces her first and only love, but despite their powerful attraction, danger compels her to remain his forbidden lady.

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Charlotte Russell

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