From an early age, Virginia Hall had a knack at picking up languages. She went on to study languages at Radcliffe, then Barnard College, finishing her studies in Paris and Vienna.
She went on to work as a clerk at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey hoping to eventually become a diplomat, however, in 1933, Virginia lost her foot in hunting accident. Regulations dictated that as an amputee she could no longer work in her life long dream career of foreign service. Eventually, she ended up as an ambulance driver for the French Army in 1940 during the Nazi invasion. Hall escaped to England during the Nazi invasion.
With the newly formed British OSE intelligence agency finding it difficult to recruit intelligence officers, Hall volunteered and became a spy. After her training, she entered Vichy France as an American reporter.
For the next year, using various aliases, Hall worked to organize the French resistance, helped downed fliers escape, carried out acts of sabotage and guerilla warfare, provided courier service for other agents, and obtained supplies for the clandestine presses and the forgers — all this while managing to write articles for the New York Post and avoid the Gestapo that had penetrated many of the resistance networks.
In 1942, the Gestapo circulated posters offering a reward for the capture of "the woman with a limp. She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies and we must find and destroy her."
In late 1942, she was forced to flee France when the Germans overtook Vichy France and the Gestapo nearly captured her. Her only escape, with her one leg and prosthesis, was to walk through the snow covered Pyrenee Mountains to Spain.
The newly formed American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) recruited Hall. According to legend, Hall parachuted back into France with her prosthesis in her knapsack.
In early 1944, she worked in disguise as an old woman farmhand. Her missions included training French Resistance battalions, organizing sabotage operations, supplying intelligence on the German Army, radio operator and courier, locating drop zones for the RAF, and eventually working with a Jedburgh team to sabotage German military movements in coordination with the D-Day invasion. Again, Hall avoided capture, despite the German Gestapo naming her the most dangerous spy and hanging posters offering a reward for the "Limping Lady" dead or alive.
After the war, she transitioned from the OSS to the newly created CIA and continued to serve (in the "clandestine services") until mandatory retirement in 1966.
After the war, Hall’s achievements were to be publicly recognized with the presentation of the Distinguished Service Cross by President Harry Truman. She declined the honor, however, preferring to receive the award without publicity and thus preserve her cover for clandestine work in the postwar era.
Hall's role in the intelligence community cannot be underestimated. She helped to build America's modern intelligence network and paved the way for women in America's intelligence network. Prior to her involvement, women were primarily delegated to secretarial duties.