A situation of happenstance led to the writing of her groundbreaking book Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War following Proctor’s research on the Girl Guides, the British equivalent of Girl Scouts in the United States. While there may not appear to be a correlation between a girl scout-type group and espionage, Proctor was surprised to discover that during the 1910s girls as young as 14 involved in Girl Guides were used to transport secret messages at MI-5, Britain’s counter-intelligence agency.
Through further research, Proctor discovered that women were used frequently in intelligence work, and that discovery provided the basis for her book.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like if 14- and 16-year-olds did that today,” Proctor said with a laugh.
Proctor has since become a trailblazer in this field of study. This is one of the first books on women’s involvement in espionage during World War I, and much of that has to do with the availability of information. A vast amount of her research derives from British intelligence records, which are not permitted to be released for 80 years by rule. It wasn’t until 1998 that Proctor was even able to get her hands on these records.
Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War , which was first published in 2003 and was recently released in paperback, chronicles the history of women spies, and addresses the “image of the women spy being sexualized and treacherous.” Proctor’s text supplies a significant amount of information to refute the stereotypical and stigmatizing portrayal of these women.
“There was this notion that women spies get their information by sleeping with men,” Proctor said. “Most of them were getting information by observing and using their brains instead of their bodies. There is a disconnect between the image and reality.”
Through her writings, Proctor hopes to do away with preconceived notions about female roles in espionage.
“I think people have a tendency to equate espionage with males,” she added. “When people think about women spies today, they think about Bond girls. Earlier generations think of Mata Hari. People don’t realize that half of the CIA’s personnel are women.”
Mata Hari graces the cover of the text, and the picture alone is a prime example of the sexual nature to which Proctor refers. Mata Hari was an exotic dancer and courtesan before World War I, and she used this role to transform herself into what people today would call the “Mata-Harian” persona.
“If you were to run a search on Lexis-Nexis for the last few years, you’d be surprised how many hits you get for Mata Hari,” Proctor said.
Once the war began, her dancing career was nearing its end, but she continued her life as a courtesan “with men of power in multiple countries.” She was shot by a firing squad for espionage in 1917 after the French arrested her on charges of being a German spy.
The contrast between Mata Hari’s photo on the book cover and what she looked like when she was arrested (both photos can be seen in the text) represents the notion of women spies being seen in a sexual light when this isn’t necessarily the case.
Wittenberg students can expect to find Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War in “courses that deal with women’s role in history,” such as Proctor’s class on World War I or European Women’s History.
Amidst her book release, Proctor has been preparing for a research trip to England. She is working on a new book about civilians in the First World War.
“I’ll be working at the British Library and several other archives in London to finish the research I began several years ago,” Proctor said.
Proctor, along with Wittenberg religion professor Jennifer Oldstone-Moore, has also been preparing for the first-ever Japan and the World Conference at Wittenberg in November. A 2006-07 Wittenberg Series event, the conference is being organized as a tribute to James Huffman, H. Orth Hirt professor of history at Wittenberg, in honor of his retirement in spring 2007.
Conference topics will cover a wide range of perspectives, including journalism, imperialism and people’s history of Japan, all of which are areas Huffman has focused on during his long and distinguished career. Proctor and Oldstone-Moore recently secured a $2,500 grant with the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies and the Japan-US Friendship Commission to bring scholars to campus for the two-day conference. The conference’s keynote speaker is John Dower, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Embracing Defeat.
Complete information on the Japan and the World Conference is available on the history department Web site. More information on the conference will be forthcoming.
- Erica Strauss '08
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