History of Super Spy Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh for Kids

Black and white photo of Betty McIntosh
Betty McIntosh

Do you like to play board games?  Maybe you know of some popular games like Scrabble, Monopoly, Battleship, or Trouble.  Maybe you even have your own favorite board game that you play with your family.  One of my favorite board games is called “Clue.”  This game was created a long time ago, in 1944 by an Englishman, for people to play while they were huddled in underground shelters during bombing raids.  It was originally called “Cluedo” which means “I play” in Latin! It is a mystery game full of twists and turns, where players find clues and try to figure out who committed a daring deed with a household item, such as a fireplace poker, knife, or a walking stick, inside a spooky gothic house.  It is a game of cunning and conniving – of trying to figure out who is the villain and how to use clues to solve the mystery.  The characters have funny names like Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, and Mrs. Peacock and you need to follow and remember their hijinks and clues during the game.  You need to be a super sleuth – or spy!    

Real Spies

During the time Clue was created, there were a lot of real spies.  But instead of playing a make-believe game, they were engaged in actual spycraft!  During WW II, US spies worked tirelessly and covertly – meaning secretly – to obtain enemy information, such as where the enemy was headed, where they would attack, how many planes, ships, or men they had, and other useful information.  And not all of these spies were men!  Women were also used as spies across Europe and Asia because they were so unexpected.  At that time, people did not think that women could be involved in the war, either fighting or spying.  So, women had the perfect spy cover!  They could act like a society lady, attending parties, and listening to war talk between men.  Or they could ride their bikes around town, stopping in shops and cafes to listen for war secrets.  And some even created news by writing fake radio announcements, newspaper articles, or postcards to confuse the enemy.  

Betty McIntosh – Spy

One such spy was Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh who was born on March 1, 1915, in Washington, DC.  She was very brave and smart.  She knew how to speak Japanese and was working as a news reporter during the start of WWII.  Betty was stationed in Hawaii when Japanese planes bombed US ships docked at Pearl Harbor.  

The bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the US into the war and Betty moved to Washington, DC.  She kept busy writing articles about Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife, and her war efforts.  She then interviewed a man working at the OSS – the Office of Strategic Services.  This was the US spy agency during WWII.  During the interview, she was asked if she would “like to do something more interesting.”  She was not told it would be spying – which was very sneaky of them!  She said, “I would like to do it if it involves going overseas.”  And they granted her wish!  

Betty reported for her first day of work and was fingerprinted – meaning they covered her fingers in ink and pushed her fingers onto a piece of paper, leaving fingerprints on the paper.  She was then told that she had to keep everything top secret and swear an oath – which she thought was strange because she didn’t even know what she would be doing yet.

Betty was then sent to a group called MO – Morale Operations.  Their entire job was to spread rumors.  Can you imagine that?  I’m sure all of us have been told by our parents and teachers not to tell lies or spread rumors.  But that was her new job!  She was taught how to start rumors and make them believable by mixing in bits of truth with lies.   She worked with other “spy craft” people, like radio announcers, artists, newspaper editors, cartoonists, and writers – people who had skills in writing and creating convincing stories and pictures.  Some of these spycraft people were captured Japanese soldiers who were artists and agreed to work with the allies.

Betty McIntosh Heads to India

Once Betty finished training in 1943, she was sent to India to spread false radio and news reports to Japanese soldiers who were getting very tired of fighting.  The Japanese government had told their soldiers that if they stopped fighting – or if they surrendered – they could never go home and they would lose their houses and savings.  This made the Japanese continue to fight very hard.  The US needed to find a way to let the Japanese soldiers stop fighting while keeping their honor.  So, Betty and the OSS created false Japanese military orders to surrender in one particular battle!  They had another spy capture a Japanese courier – a mailman – and put the false order in his mailbag.  This order was later read and believed by the Japanese officers!

Betty McIntosh in China

Betty then flew to China, where she started writing fake radio scripts and stories for the OSS.  One OSS radio worker acted as a fortune teller.  This fortune teller pretended to look at the stars and make predictions over the radio.  The Japanese loved to listen to these radio stories!  Betty was told she had to write a very scary, but believable story to scare the Japanese.  “What about an earthquake?” she said.  No, that happens all the time in Japan,” said her boss.  “Well, what about a Tsunami,” she replied.  “Nope, they have those, too,” he said.  “Well, I’ll think of something scary” replied Betty.  

She thought and thought, but couldn’t think of something truly scary.  So, she finally wrote the following announcement, “Something terrible is going to happen to Japan. We have checked the stars and there is something we can’t even mention because it is so dreadful and it is going to eradicate one whole area of Japan.” That same day, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.  Betty didn’t even know this was going to happen and she was shocked – as well as everyone else who listened to her radio announcement!  She was asked, “How did you know about the bomb because it was top secret?”  She said, “I just made the story up!”

Betty McIntosh Returns to the US

After the war ended, Betty returned to the US and started writing for Glamour magazine.  But it was very boring writing about clothes and makeup after being a spy!  So, Betty returned to government work, assisting the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, and the United Nations.  She also wrote several spy books, including “Undercover Girl” and “Sisterhood of Spies” as well as several children’s books.

Still, Betty missed the thrill and excitement of working as a spy, so she asked for a job with the new US spy agency, the CIA, or Central Intelligence Agency.  She worked there for many years until retiring.  She signed an oath to never talk about her work at the CIA, so we will never know about her other spy exploits, but I’m sure they were exciting!  

Betty passed away at the age of 100 in 2015 after 40 years of working as a spy.  Before she died, she stated that her work as a spy was the most exciting time in her life.  

In 1982, the US started an annual celebration called Women’s History Month, which starts on March 1st in honor of Betty’s birthday.  

Life as a Spy

What do you think of Betty’s life as a spy?  Would you like to be a spy?  What would be your spy name?  What kind of spy would you be?  Would you write stories, sneak behind enemy lines gathering information, or smuggle people to safety?  Or maybe you would do something else, like crack codes or decipher messages.

I think Betty’s story reminds us that women can do courageous, patriotic, and amazing things.  Betty traveled overseas and did important work for her nation during a time of great crisis to save US lives and shorten the war.  Maybe you can continue to honor Betty and other brave women by participating in Women’s History Month and learning more about courageous women who changed the course of history.