Growing up, Virginia Hall led a charmed life. She spent summers in Europe and on the family’s 110-acre Box Horn farm on the outskirts of Baltimore. She went to the exclusive Roland Park Country School for Girls, then Radcliffe and Barnard. After graduating from the consular Academy in Vienna, Austria, Virginia began working as a clerk for the US State Department with an assignment in the US Embassy in Warsaw, then the US Consulate in Izmir, Turkey. Virginia was ambitious and even though only a handful of women were Foreign Service Officers, she planned to take the Foreign Service examination to advance her career. Everything was falling into place.
On December 8, 1933, it all changed. Virginia was hunting the Gallinago on the marshy shore of Turkey’s Gediz peninsula, when her rifle slipped and discharged, severely injuring her left leg and foot. A portion of her leg below the knee was amputated when gangrene set in.
The State Department had strict rules forbidding applicants with amputations from entering the Foreign Service. Virginia was furious and fought this form of discrimination against the differently-abled, but her appeal was rejected by then-Secretary of State Cordell Hull. This set into motion Virginia’s eventual departure from the State Department and likely fueled her determination to join British Intelligence and the fight in France.
The Gallinago, also known as Snipe, is a marsh-dweller related to the Sandpiper and Woodcock. It’s most often hunted after dark. Popular in Europe, the Gallinago is a dark-meat bird with a flavor more mild than Duck. (Photo courtesy of J.M.Garg – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2974875)