Women have played a critical role in national security, dating back to World War II when Rosie the Riveter became a cultural icon representing the millions of women who took on manufacturing jobs to support the war effort. However, women’s contributions to national security go far beyond their efforts on the home front during World War II.

Throughout history, women have served in various national security roles, including intelligence and security clearance careers. In fact, women have played a pivotal role in the security clearance process, ensuring that only qualified and trustworthy individuals have access to classified information.

10 Women Who Made Major Contributions to National Security

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we are sharing real-life examples of women who have significantly contributed to our nation’s national security.

1. Elizabeth Smith Friedman: A Woman Who Broke the Code

Elizabeth Smith Friedman was one of the most influential codebreakers in history. During World War II, she and her husband, William Friedman, helped to develop modern cryptology techniques, which were instrumental in breaking enemy codes. Elizabeth Friedman’s work helped shape the cryptology field and significantly contributed to national security.

2. Elizabeth P. Hoisington: One of the First Women to Serve in the Army

Elizabeth P. Hoisington was among the first women to serve in the US Army. She enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1942. She rose through the ranks to become the first woman to attain the rank of brigadier general in the US Army.

3. Chien-Shiung Wu: Nuclear Physicist who Contributed to the Manhattan Project

Chien-Shiung Wu was a nuclear physicist who contributed to the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb. She worked on the project as a research scientist. She played a critical role in the development of the bomb’s detonator. 

4. Ann Caracristi: High-Ranking Official at the National Security Agency

Ann Caracristi was a high-ranking official at the National Security Agency (NSA). She worked as a code breaker during World War II and later served as the first female deputy director of the NSA.

5. Edith Nourse Rogers: The First Woman to Chair a Congressional Committee on Military Affairs

Edith Nourse Rogers was the first woman to chair a congressional committee on military affairs in the United States. She played a crucial role in expanding the benefits and opportunities available to veterans, including the G.I. Bill. Rogers’ efforts helped to ensure that our military personnel receive the support they need to serve our country and return to civilian life.

6. Grace Hopper: The Pioneer of Computer Programming

Grace Hopper pioneered computer programming and was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. She is credited with inventing the first compiler, which translated human language into machine code, making it easier to write computer programs. Hopper’s contributions to computer programming laid the foundation for modern-day cybersecurity and helped to keep our nation’s information safe.

7. Madeleine Albright: America’s first female Secretary of State

Madeleine Albright’s security clearance career spanned several decades, during which she played a pivotal role in shaping US foreign policy and promoting democratic values worldwide. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Albright as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, where she earned a reputation as a fierce advocate for democracy and human rights. Four years later, Albright made history when she was sworn in as the first female Secretary of State and oversaw US foreign policy during a period of significant global change, including the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of terrorism as a global threat.

8. Condoleezza Rice: Breaking Barriers in National Security and Diplomacy

Condoleezza Rice’s inspiring governmental career first made history in 2001 when she was appointed as the first woman to serve as US National Security Advisor. Her role led her to work closely with President George W. Bush to develop a comprehensive response to the 9/11 attacks, including the launch of the War on Terror and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. In 2005, Rice made history again after being appointed as the first African American woman to serve as US Secretary of State, a role she held until 2009.

9. Michèle Flournoy: Highest-Ranking Woman in Department of Defense

Michèle Flournoy’s appointment as the US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama administration changed the landscape when she became the highest-ranking woman in the Department of Defense. From 2009 to 2012, she provided counsel to the Secretary of Defense on national security and defense policy. Flournoy strongly advocates diversity in the military and believes that having a range of perspectives is vital for national security. 

10. Avril Haines: First Woman to Serve as Director of National Intelligence

Avril Haines made history on January 20, 2021, when she was sworn in as the first woman to serve as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Prior to her appointment, Haines had an extensive career in national security, including serving as Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and as Deputy National Security Advisor. Her appointment is a significant milestone in the field of national security and serves as an inspiration to women interested in pursuing careers in this important and challenging field.

These women were pioneers in their respective fields and played essential roles in shaping national security policy and protecting the country from threats. Their contributions paved the way for future generations of women to enter the security clearance world and make their mark on history.


*Update made March 13, 2023 to adjust this section on women codebreakers for accuracy. 

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Brandon Osgood is a strategic communications and digital marketing professional based out of Raleigh, NC. Beyond being a passionate storyteller, Brandon is an avid classical musician with dreams of one day playing at Carnegie Hall. Interested in connecting? Email him at brosgood@outlook.com.