April 25, 2017

Amazing Women in World War II: A Censored Journalist Turns Spy

Last week was the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Among the amazing women in World War II was a reporter whose story of the bombing of Honolulu was so vivid the editor wouldn’t publish it. She went on to become a spy.

women in World War II

Reporter Betty McIntosh was working for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on December 7, 1941, when the bombs started falling. Pearl Harbor was the main target–and the one everyone remembers–but the city felt the attack, too. Civilians, including children, were among the casualties.

A week later, Betty wrote an article recounting the recent horrors. Her goal was to warn women what might be coming in other places, now that the U.S. was at war. But her editor killed the article, saying it was too graphic. That’s according to the Washington Post, which finally ran the article, in full, 71 years later.

“For seven ghastly, confused days, we have been at war. To the women of Hawaii, it has meant a total disruption of home life, a sudden acclimation to blackout nights, terrifying rumors, fear of the unknown as planes drone overhead and lorries shriek through the streets.”

That’s just the beginning. She goes on to recount that as soon as she heard the news on the radio that Sunday morning, she reported to work. (Click here to hear a radio broadcast announcement from Honolulu to the mainland, announcing the attack.)

Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view.

Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view.

She saw the planes diving into the harbor and plumes of black smoke. Then, a nearby rooftop shot into the air.

“For the first time, I felt that numb terror that all of London has known for months. It is the terror of not being able to do anything but fall on your stomach and hope the bomb won’t land on you. It’s the helplessness and terror of sudden visions of a ripping sensation in your back, shrapnel coursing through your chest, total blackness, maybe death.”

(Click here to see images of the London Blitz, and here to see intense images from Pearl Harbor at the Huffington Post website.)

In the article, Betty goes on to describe the destruction to her neighborhood business district, and the chaos at the emergency room which she was assigned to cover. The aftermath wasn’t a calm after the storm, either:

“Sunday after dusk there was the all-night horror of attack in the dark. Sirens shrieking, sharp, crackling police reports and the tension of a city wrapped in fear….Then, in the nightmare of Monday and Tuesday, there was the struggle to keep normal when planes zoomed overhead and guns cracked out at an unseen enemy.”

Video Interview: Betty looks back at Pearl Harbor

The Response of Women in WWII

At the end of the article, Betty describes the frantic calls that began pouring in to the newsroom where she worked. They were from women, “wanting to know what they could do during the day, when husbands and brothers were away and there was nothing left but to listen to the radio and imagine that all hell had broken out on another part of the island. It was then that I realized how important women can be in a war-torn world.”

Betty McIntosh, reporter, spy, CIA employee

Betty McIntosh, reporter, spy, CIA employee

She ends by saying, “There is a job for every woman in Hawaii to do,” and names the Red Cross, canteens, and evacuation areas as places that needed women’s help. What Betty didn’t name was what she decided to do next: become a spy.

Witnessing the bombing of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor changed Betty, says the Washington Post. She became “restless,” wanting to do something different. So she joined the Office of Strategic Services and used her literary talents and knowledge of Japanese to spread misinformation to the enemy, including to enemy soldiers, to make them want to surrender more easily.

After the war, Betty went on to work for the CIA until she retired. You can read her biography, here. She died at age 100 in 2015.

What a story. What a woman!

“There is a job for every woman in Hawaii to do.” – Betty McIntosh

5 Posts to Help You Put Together Your Own Gripping Family Stories

Did you notice the many different sources threaded through this story? Images, news articles, oral histories, a YouTube interview, a radio broadcast clip? Your own family stories can often be fleshed out with all these different types of media. Click below for inspiring tips and how-tos.

family secrets in newspaper search tips1. A Shocking Family Secret–and 3 Powerful Newspaper Search Tips from Lisa Louise Cooke, author of How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

2. Create Your Own Family History Videos

3. How One Genealogist Used YouTube with Astonishing Results

4. Use Internet Archive for Genealogy (that’s where I found the radio broadcast clip)

5. Using Google Images to Find Photos: tips from Lisa Louise Cooke, author of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (which has a chapter on YouTube, too!)

(Click here to read a local history or here to learn from oral histories about life in Honolulu after the war began.)

Finding Naturalization Records: Where are the Women?

Women’s suffragists demonstrate in February 1913. Photographer unknown. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Women’s suffragists demonstrate in February 1913. Photographer unknown. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

We’re nearing the completion of the enormous Community Indexing Project of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Records. Already finding naturalization records is a lot easier: we can search newly-created indexes to millions of naturalization records at FamilySearch.org. But often we don’t find the women we’re looking for.

Let’s look at why. But I’ll warn you, the reasons aren’t pretty. In the past, women had very few legal rights. None could vote. Married women had even fewer rights. Typically their legal identity disappeared when they married, enveloped by their husband’s. Married women did not handle legal matters in their own name, own property or keep their own money. Sometimes they did not even have legal liability for their actions. This was known as the legal principle of coverture.

In 1855, a law was enacted establishing that women who weren’t ineligible for other reasons (like race) were automatically made citizens when their husbands were naturalized. There was no extra paperwork or court costs. Their husbands’ papers (in combination with their marriage records) served as proof of the women’s citizenship, even though before 1906, you will not usually find the women’s names even listed on their husbands’ applications.

This represented a step forward for most married women, but not all. If a husband didn’t naturalize, the wife couldn’t naturalize without him. On the flip side, if a U.S.-born woman married a foreigner, she often lost her U.S. citizenship, whether or not she left the country. This problem wasn’t fully resolved until many years later; learn more about the laws and resulting paperwork in this article by the National Archives.

Naturalization laws were not applied evenly, and some women got their citizenship anyway. Eventually, as women won voting rights in various states in the early 1900s, men who applied to naturalize were sometimes denied because their wives, who would be granted citizenship and therefore voting privileges, didn’t speak English or meet other requirements. Men complained that their wives’ nationalities were getting in the way, a problem women had lived with for years!

Check out this interactive timeline on women's right to vote in the U.S.

Check out this interactive timeline on women’s right to vote in the U.S.

In 1922, women gained the right to naturalize independent of marital status. If their husbands were already citizens, they didn’t have to file declarations of intentions (the first step in the paperwork process), just a petition (the second step in the process). Otherwise, they had to fill out both sets of papers. Eventually even this link to their husbands’ citizenship disappeared, and they just filled out their own entirely separate paperwork.

My Great Grandmother’s Petition for Naturalization

What about unmarried women and widows? They could apply for naturalization, but in especially before the 1900s, they sometimes didn’t if they had no property. They could not vote and the law didn’t always treat them equally. They saw little benefit in investing the funds and time in applying for citizenship.

It’s fascinating how much we can learn as family historians about the status of women by the way they were handled in the records we research. The history of women in naturalization records reminds us to look past the paperwork to the reasons and intentions behind it. Unless we really understand the history of the laws and the culture at that time, we can’t be sure that we have exhausted all of the options.