The CIA, by its nature, and its personnel are often shrouded in secrecy. Among its many unsung heroes is a sharp, accomplished group of women who were instrumental to the agency's founding and early years. Wise Gals, the fourth book from Nathalia Holt (The Queens of Animation), draws back the curtain on five women who shaped the agency's purpose and procedures, fought for pay equity and did critical work in the field.
Holt begins with the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA's predecessor agency, giving readers a glimpse into U.S. politics around intelligence services. Founded during World War II and disbanded after the war's end, the OSS employed a surprising number of women, including Adelaide Hawkins, Jane Burrell and Eloise Page, who started as the longtime assistant to OSS head "Wild Bill" Donovan. These women, along with officers Mary Hutchison (whose husband was also CIA) and Elizabeth Sudmeier, form the focus of the book. Holt vividly chronicles their careers, including multiple incidents from the field: missions gone wrong (or right), meeting and controlling assets and cracking codes and ciphers. Holt also details the work of the Petticoat Panel, a massive effort (involving Sudmeier, Hutchison, Hawkins and Page) to report on and improve the status of women at the agency. At every turn, Holt showcases the women's intelligence, knowledge and grit, while also highlighting the ways they didn't get the recognition they deserved.