We’re so excited that author extraordinaire and FYA fave Heather Demetrios is here today to introduce us to the subject of her upcoming biography Code Name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall (September 2021). Take it away, Heather!
Who wouldn’t want to spend Friday nights with one of WWII’s most wanted spies, a gal who managed to escape the Nazis and become one of the most distinguished women in CIA history? If anyone knows how to give the finger to ableism and discrimination, it’s Virginia Hall. Despite having one leg, she managed to run circles around every spy and soldier around her. It’s time to swipe right on your new historical girlfriend.
Virginia Hall while working overseas: a broad abroad
Fake Historical Girlfriend Name: Virginia Hall Goillot aka “Dindy” aka Anna Müller, Brigitte Le Contre, Camille, Diana, Diane, DFV, Germaine, Marie, Marcelle Montagne, Marie Monin, Nicolas, Philomène. Known to the Germans as “That Bitch” and to the French Resistance as La Dame Qui Boite (The Lady Who Limps)
A spy’s name is a loaded question, so we’ll make it easy for you: Virginia Hall was “Dindy” to those who knew her best, a family nickname that stayed with her into old age. But if you were in France during World War II, you probably would have known her by one of her many aliases or code names. Dindy avoided the altar for most of her life, but when your man literally drops from the sky to help you kick some Nazi ass, he’s a keeper. She didn’t marry Paul Goillot until she was fifty-one years old, at which time she took on her final alias: Virginia Hall Goillot.
Date of Birth/Death: April 6, 1906 – July 8, 1982 (76 years old)
Dindy was born at a time when women were still stuffing themselves into corsets, but by the time she was old enough to rock the basketball courts of her all-girl’s school and play the lead in her school plays (the villain), the Roaring Twenties were well underway and she could wear comfortable clothing that allowed her to hike, hunt, and ride horses to her non-conforming heart’s content.
Place of Birth: Baltimore, MD
Dindy may have been born into Baltimore society, but her mother was sorely disappointed to discover that her daughter had no interest in marriage, babies, and fancy hats. In fact, Dindy chose this quote from Shakespeare to go under her portrait in her senior yearbook: “I must have liberty. Withal as large a charter as I please.” Though Dindy would eventually come back to Baltimore, she spent over a decade in Europe, raising merry hell.
Dindy: mirror selfie pioneer
Your New Best Friend
Where She’s Been
She’d tell you, but then she’d have to kill you. Here’s the de-classified version: After dropping out of Harvard and Barnard, which she thought were snores, Dindy completed her studies in economics and languages in Vienna and Paris. She then joined the State Department as a clerk in the foreign service, where she was stationed in Poland, then Turkey. That’s when this badass made a dumbass mistake: she literally shot herself in the foot while hunting. I know, right? So they had to amputate below the knee, which totally sucked but Dindy, she didn’t sweat it. As soon as she recovered and got her prosthesis (which she named Cuthbert), she signed back on for another tour as a clerk in an American embassy abroad: she was stationed first in Venice and then in Estonia. Mama was TIRED of pushing paper.
Pissed that the State Department was sexist and wouldn’t allow her to be a foreign officer on account of her disability, she was like, screw this, I’m out. When the Germans decided to invade France, she left embassy life for good and hustled over to Paris to volunteer as an ambulance driver on the front lines. Spoiler alert: the Germans won. Dindy’s next stops: England (to learn the art of espionage and join the British Special Operations Executive), France (to arm the French Resistance), Spain (via prison – oops), England again (God save the Queen), France again (Mission #2, this time with the US spy squad, the Office of Strategic Services), Austria (Mission #3: Hitler’s hometown), the U.S. (specifically: CIA headquarters at Langley), and [redacted].
Dindy in Venice
What She’s Done
[Redacted]: Good luck reading her CIA file.
Most Wanted Allied Spy In WWII France: Considering there were a lot of spies—good ones, too—in France during WWII, and considering the place was crawling with Gestapo who nabbed a good deal of them pretty easily, avoiding capture and completing her missions are perhaps Virginia Hall’s greatest accomplishments. She ran a Resistance cell in Lyon, where she provided local spies and résistants with fake IDs, ration cards, and anything they needed to f*ck shit up for the Nazis. When the heat was on, she escaped, successfully climbing over the Pyrenees mountains despite being the only woman in the group and the only person with one freaking leg. She returned to France as a radio operator—the most dangerous job for spies in WWII—and went on to train members of the Secret Army that helped to liberate France during the D-Day campaign. She has been credited for providing valuable intel that helped the Allies liberate Paris because of course she did.
Not an E.G.O.T., But She’ll Take It: For total and complete badassery in the field, Dindy would be awarded an MBE from the King of England, the Croix de Guerre from France, and was the only civilian woman in WWII to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. She’d end up in a few hall of fames too. When President Truman wanted to make a big show of pinning the coveted Distinguished Service Cross on her at the White House, Dindy was like new phone, who dis: she sent her regrets saying she was “still operational and most anxious to get busy.”
Dindy receiving her Distinguished Service Cross
Mission Impossible: When the CIA was established after WWII, Dindy became one of the Agency’s first-ever female members of the Career Staff, where she planned paramilitary operations all over the world. But did mama get the love she deserved? Nope. Despite being more qualified than most of the men who would go on to lead the Agency during her time, she was relegated to a desk job while newbie boys got all the cool assignments abroad. These days, women like Dindy are credited with some of the biggest cracks in the Agency’s glass ceiling, but since the Agency’s inception, there has only been one women leading the charge as Director. The good news: Every single new recruit learns about Dindy when they walk through the doors of the new Virginia Hall Expeditionary Center at the Farm, the Agency’s famous training facility.
Why You’ll Want To Time Travel
Swoon: Dindy’s future husband would literally fall from the sky when he was parachuted in to France to help her train an army. The two fell so hard for one another that they insisted on being a team for their next mission. Paul gave the finger to toxic masculinity on the regular: after the war, he opted to be a house husband while Dindy went on to rock a career as an intelligence officer. Bonus: he was an excellent chef.
Boss Lady: Dindy was one of very few women working in espionage and was used to the patriarchy being a thorn in her side. But you don’t complete one of the most dangerous missions in the war by being a scaredy cat. Dindy’s claws came out when a fellow (male) operative suggested an agent on the run level with his French hotel manager about his true identity. “Shut up,” Dindy said. *cue eye roll* “That’s the most stupid thing I ever heard.” (They Fought Alone, Maurice Buckmaster)
Wild West: The Gestapo wanted Dindy in their clutches so badly that they put up wanted posters all over Lyon, France. Because of course an American girl would bring Wild West vibes across the pond. The head of Hitler’s sinister goon squad in Lyon was Klaus Barbie, the infamous Butcher of Lyon. Creepy and sadistic doesn’t even begin to describe Barbie, who was known for bringing his cat into his torture chamber. Did Dindy sweat it? Nope. Not only did she escape, she came back for a second mission, in charge of setting the stage for D-Day in her part of the French countryside. He once said, “I would give anything to lay my hands on that…bitch.” Bad bitch make ‘em nervous. Barbie never laid eyes on her.
For all of her life and long after her death in 1982, no one knew that a one-legged broad from Baltimore had given Hitler’s boys the slip on the regular and helped the Allies win WWII. That began to change when Drunk History tapped Alia Shawkat to play Dindy in their “Spies” episode. A biopic about her life is in the works and the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. has the wireless radio she used in the field as part of their permanent exhibit.
Code Name Badass (available September 2021) by Heather Demetrios
Expect the same kind of salty language Dindy used in the field when you read my pop culture feminist bio of our audacious heroine.
The Women Who Lived For Danger by Marcus Binney
Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS by Elizabeth P. McIntosh
Think you can keep up with a gal like Dindy? If so, grab your disguise and code name—and be sure you know how to mix up a mean “gin and Italian,” her cocktail of choice.
Code Name Badass by Heather Demetrios
When James Bond was still in diapers, Virginia Hall was behind enemy lines, playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Hitler’s henchmen. Did this shero have second thoughts after a terrible accident left her needing a wooden leg? Please. Virginia Hall was the baddest broad in any room she walked into. When the State Department proved to be a sexist boy’s club that wouldn’t allow her in, she gave the finger to society’s expectations of women and became a spy for the British. This boss lady helped arm and train the French Resistance and organized sabotage missions. There was just one problem: the Butcher of Lyon, a notorious Gestapo commander, was after her. But, hey, Virginia’s classmates didn’t call her “the Fighting Blade” for nothing.
So how does a girl who was a pirate in the school play, spent her childhood summers milking goats, and rocked it on the hockey field end up becoming the Gestapo’s most wanted spy?
Audacious, irreverent, and fiercely feminist, Code Name Badass is for anyone who doesn’t take no for an answer.
Heather’s kickass playlist of super fun feminist songs for the book:
All images of Virginia Hall are courtesy of Lorna Catling.
About the Contributor:
Heather Demetrios is the author of the upcoming Code Name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall. Usually she writes novels about unlikely love matches, including Little Universes, I’ll Meet You There, and Bad Romance. When she’s not marvelizing her cat, Circe, you’ll probably find her reading tarot cards, meditating, or bossing around the writers she teaches and coaches.