For many years, cryptanalysis was an occupation with neither fame nor prestige. It was largely unrecognized in the United States, despite being crucial in many parts of history. However, this lack of renown – the field had barely been established at all, much less established as a “mens field” – created a unique situation that allowed women to enter the field of cryptography easier than other professions.
As the war progressed, it became much less shocking and uncommon that a woman was doing what typically would’ve been seen as mens work. For example, one woman, on secret 8-day trip to Washington to obtain government material, wrote “at times I have to laugh. It is all so foreign to my training, to my family’s old fashioned notions about what and where a woman’s place is, etc… yet none of those things seem to shock the family now. I suppose it is the War.” Whether it was from changing ideas about gender in the mid 1900’s, or simply out of necessity (men couldn’t possibly fill all the wartime jobs), attitudes about women definitely did shift during the War.
Despite progress, notions about gender still had a large effect on a women’s life. For example, early in the war, Elizabeth Friedman wanted to work with the Navy (rather than a cryptanalysis firm) to have a greater impact on her country and the war. However, her male boss censored her mail and communications, keeping her from getting in touch with the Navy. And, later on, when Elizabeth and her husband (also a cryptanalyst) were both working for the Army, Elizabeth was paid exactly half the salary of her husband, even though they worked the same job. We still see this inequality persist today.
Additionally, Friedman was faced with sexist condescension as her reputation grew. Many suspected that her husband was secretly doing her work, or accredited her successes to her husband’s status. Though, there were others on the opposite side – many newspapers liked to create the story that Elizabeth had trained her husband. This time period consisted of many conflicting ideas about gender and identity.