Elizebeth Smith Friedman grad­uated in 1915. Winona Yearbook.

Hillsdale College alumni have accom­plished many great things, but Elizebeth Smith Friedman is in a class of her own. 

This summer, the United States Coast Guard announced it would name its 11th Legend-Class National Security Cutter after Friedman, a 1915 alumna of the college.  

When the Coast Guard’s crypto-nau­tical unit began, it con­sisted entirely of Friedman and her clerk. Friedman’s tools were only a pencil and a piece of paper, but that was enough. Over the course of Pro­hi­bition and World War II, the pair deci­phered a total of 12,000 mes­sages from Rum Runners, who ille­gally trans­ported alcohol onto ships, to and from their fleets of boats landing on the American coast. Addi­tionally, the unit inter­cepted radio signals from Van­couver to Mexico on the West Coast, from New­foundland to the Bahamas on the East Coast, and from Cuba to British Hon­duras. 

Friedman came to Hillsdale College in 1913 after trans­ferring from Wooster College because it was closer to her ill mother. After grad­u­ating in 1915 with a degree in English, and an alumna of the Pi Beta Phi sorority,  she headed to Chicago in search of a job.

It was her passion for Shake­speare and deter­mi­nation to prove his con­nection to Francis Bacon, however, that brought her to the Coast Guard after she shared her passion for the play­wright during a phone call to Colonel George Fabyan. After she married William Friedman in 1917, the pair moved to Wash­ington, D.C., to work for the War Department. From there, her career in the Coast Guard began, even­tually earning her the title of ‘Amer­ica’s first female crypt­an­alyst.’

Her accom­plish­ments are numerous and range from decoding mes­sages from Man­darin and becoming a secret agent for the Treasury Department to tes­ti­fying in smug­gling trials. 

“It was her love of lan­guage studies that really aided her,” said Linda Moore, Mossey Library’s retired his­torian. “It shows you what you can do with an English degree.”

This isn’t the first time Friedman has been rec­og­nized for her extra­or­dinary career. She received an hon­orary law degree from Hillsdale College in 1930 and is listed on the C.I.A. Wall of Honor. 

But the Coast Guard ship is the highest honor of all. 

According to the Coast Guard, the ship is one of the largest, and most sophis­ti­cated ships of its time. The 418-foot ship cuts through haz­ardous waters around the globe and will be pri­marily sta­tioned  between the North and East Pacific.

“Legend-Class cutters honor women and men who have a leg­endary status in the Coast Guard’s rich history,” the Coast Guard said in a press release. “These indi­viduals reflect a proud diversity of mis­sions, his­torical periods, and career back­grounds, and con­tinue to inspire us.”