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Exclusive Trip to Vienna, Austria and Dancing the Night Away at a Traditional Viennese Ball

Austria’s capital Vienna, once the seat of the multicultural Austro-Hungarian Empire, is a vibrant and modern city with stunning reminders of its imperial past, a lively art and theatre scene, museums, shopping, famous coffee houses and culinary delights influenced by the cuisines of Central Europe.

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Agnes Meyer Driscoll

Agnes Meyer Driscoll




1918-1959

Biography

One of the forgotten giants of American cryptology, Agnes Meyer Driscoll was born July 24, 1889, in Geneseo, Ill., to Lucy (née Andrews) and Gustav Meyer, a German immigrant. The family later moved to Ohio, and Meyer would graduate from Ohio University in 1911 with an A.B. in mathematics, physics, music, and languages. Following her graduation, Meyer taught at Lowrey-Phillips Military School in Amarillo, Texas, where she was the director of music, from 1912 to 1915. After that, she was head of the mathematics department at Amarillo High School from 1915 to 1918–at which point the next chapter of her life began.

In 1917, following the United States’ entry into World War I, the U.S. Navy allowed women to enlist for the first time. Nicknamed “Yeomanettes,” although their proper designation was the less catchy “Yeomen (F),” these women took over clerical work, freeing up more men to fight overseas (a concept that the Navy would adopt a little under thirty years later, when women were allowed into the Navy again, this time as WAVES). Meyer enrolled in the Naval Reserve as a Yeoman 1st Class in 1918, one month short of her 29th birthday, where her experience with stenography, French, German, and typing saw her assigned to the Office of the Chief Cable Censor until June of 1919, when she was moved to the Code & Signal Section.

During her time in the Code & Signal Section, Meyer did not work on any foreign codes; instead, she worked on breaking code systems that had been submitted to the Navy for consideration. She cracked all of them; none would be put into use. All Yeomen (F) were demobilized at the end of the war, but Meyer remained in the reserves until Feb. 5, 1920, when she was honorably discharged, having attained the highest rank available to her. The day after she was discharged, she was hired as a civilian, a move which allowed her to continue her cryptological work, rather than return to clerical duties as a reservist.

In her new position, Meyer was assigned to the cryptographic department of Riverbank Laboratories in Geneva, Ill., where she worked until 1923, when she resigned from Riverbank and entered the civilian sector. Her absence revealed a gaping hole in the Navy’s cryptology department; to compensate, the Navy went through a rotation of other cryptanalysts, including the illustrious Elizebeth Friedman, during her relatively brief absence. She resigned from her civilian job in July 1924, and by August she was working for the Navy again. In 1925, another event took place: Meyer married Michael Bernard Driscoll, a Washington lawyer.

Upon her return to the Navy, the new Mrs. Driscoll was given a new assignment: the Japanese encipherment codes, known as the “Red Book” (thus named because the Navy’s stolen copy was housed in a red binder). As early as the mid-1920s, the United States was aware of–and opposed to–Japanese expansion in the Pacific, and set out to preemptively break the code the Empire of Japan used to send military and diplomatic communications. The Red Book contained 97,336 entries, each made up of a five-digit number, an expression in Roman letters, and a three-character Kana group. Driscoll produced the first full key to the Red Book in 1926, and her key remained in effect for several weeks, until several others were added on to expand it, leading to four keys being in use by 1930. By 1931, however, the Japanese had transitioned to a new code, known as the “Blue Book,” which Driscoll and her team worked on for almost two years. Once the Blue Book had been solved, it was used to decode Japanese messages giving the top speed of a Nagato battle cruiser–in response, the Navy increased the maximum speed of its Carolina-class cruiser to exceed that of the Japanese Nagato. This information was considered valuable enough to justify the entire cryptological section’s peacetime budget.

In October of 1937, Driscoll was severely injured in an automobile accident, from which she sustained severe facial injuries, as well as a broken arm and leg. Her recovery took the better part of a year, causing her to exhaust her sick leave, and to take over 170 days of unpaid leave. She only returned to work full-time in September of the following year–and due to a badly set leg, she would walk with a cane for the rest of her life.

Leading up to the United States’ entry into World War II, Driscoll worked on solving a Japanese system known as JN-25, a descendant of the Red- and Blue Book codes. Progress was slow, however, and in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Driscoll and her team were assigned to a different project: the “German Naval System,” better known as Enigma–a project that was deemed more urgent than JN-25. Driscoll’s team of five was able to produce a limited solution for Enigma, although it would ultimately be a team of Polish, French, and English cryptanalysts that would solve it. 

For the remainder of the decade, Driscoll would continue to work for the Navy. Known as “Miss Aggie” or “Madame X” at Naval Intelligence, she had a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, and reportedly cursed “as fluently as any sailor.” She also had a good deal of influence, as well as the backing of half a dozen admirals, having worked for the Navy long enough to have known them as ensigns. Any sailor whom she deemed inadequate could–and would–be shipped off to Hawaii.

In 1949, Driscoll was transferred from Naval Intelligence to the Armed Forces Security Agency, later known as the NSA, where she would remain until her retirement in 1959. Her remaining years working for the government, while successful, were not as exciting as her earlier years working on the Japanese cyphers. Her final assignment was a set of “unreadable” messages that others in her section had found impossible to solve. Two weeks later, she had solved them, and she retired shortly thereafter. Her retirement from the NSA was not acknowledged in any way.

Driscoll spent the decade following her retirement much like any retiree, spending time with her family, traveling, and gardening. She also had a special interest in gambling–a not uncommon hobby among her fellow cryptologists and mathematicians. She and her husband, both academically inclined, continued to attend lectures by leading scientists up until her husband’s death in 1964. One of her nephews entered the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and it thrilled her to know that her family would continue to serve the navy. In 1969, she moved into a nursing home with her sister Margaret, who had also been a Yeomanette, and had worked with her on JN-25 and Enigma.

She died in Fairfax, Va., on Sept. 16, 1971, and was buried beside her husband in Arlington National Cemetery. Following her death, Driscoll was virtually forgotten, except by those who had worked with her. She was inducted into the NSA’s Cryptologic Hall of Fame in 2000, a small acknowledgement for the woman who was at one time deemed the Navy’s best cryptologist.

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Krebs Photos

The German-American Heritage Foundation of the USA®

German-American Heritage Museum of the USA™

The German-American Heritage Museum of the USA™ opened in March, 2010 in a building once known as Hockemeyer Hall. Renovations were completed by the GAHF after acquiring the building in 2008. Located on 6th Street NW in the heart of the old European-American section of Washington, the Museum sits in what is now a thriving commercial neighborhood.

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2023

Immigrants’ Lives: Highlights from the Krebs Family Collection

In the 1880s, all four Krebs sons–Paul, Richard, Hermann, and Albin–immigrated to the United States at various times. Their lives took very different paths: Paul became an upholsterer in Philadelphia, Richard and Hermann managed wineries in California, and Albin joined the US Army. They are a small but varied example of the trajectories immigrants’ lives took upon arriving in the United States.

Several items from the Krebs family collection are currently displayed at the GAHM. We hope that you will enjoy these photographs from the Krebs family collection, and that they provide some backstory to the artifacts on display.

  • Dr. Gregor Constantin Wittig, c. 1866

    The patriarch of the Wittig family was born on Oct. 31, 1834. His first marriage, to Augusta Fantini Usinianski, took place in the Free Church in 1857, but was not recognized until they were married in a civil ceremony in 1858.
    Their daughter Elsbeth married Paul Krebs in 1882

  • Augusta Wittig, 1857

    Augusta Wittig is shown around the time of her first (unofficial) wedding to Gregor Wittig. This was his first marriage but her second–she had been previously widowed.

  • Paul & Elsbeth Krebs, 1884

    Paul Krebs married Elsbeth Constanze Beate Wittig in September of 1882. This photograph was taken in the summer of 1884, soon after the death of their week-old son Paul in March.

  • Hermann & Anna Krebs, Vienna 1884

    Hermann Krebs married his first wife, Anna, in 1878. They had three children (two of which died in infancy) and immigrated to the California, where Anna died in 1889.

  • Ferdinand Richard Krebs

    Like his brother Hermann, Richard Krebs immigrated to California. This photo was taken by V. Wolfenstein in Los Angeles, California, likely prior to Richard’s marriage to Margarethe Hattemer in 1884.

  • Richard & Margarethe Krebs, 1888

    Richard Krebs and Margarethe Hattemer were married in February of 1884, in Anaheim, California. This photo was taken four years later, in Los Angeles.

  • Hermann & Refugia Krebs, c. 1893

    Hermann married Refugia Mattie Siva around 1891. They are shown with his daughter from his first marriage, Anna (age 6), and their daughter Hermine (age 2).

  • Albin Krebs, c. 1899

    Albin Krebs (standing, second from right) was the most well-traveled of the Krebs brothers. He joined the US Army Corps of Engineers, and traveled widely, judging by the number of postcards he sent to his family (many of which are in GAHM’s collection). He never married, and died in El Paso, Texas, in 1931, of a subdiaphragmatic abscess.

  • Gregor & Marie Wittig

    Gregor Wittig and Marie Augusta Siebert were married in 1876, a year and a half after his first wife’s death. They had four children together, one of whom–Gretel–married Paul Krebs’ son Richard.

  • Mountain View Winery, 1905

    From 1885 onwards, Richard Krebs managed various wineries in California. In 1905, he moved to Azusa, Calif., where he started a winery of his own.

  • Family photo, 1906

    This photo was taken in the backyard, likely in the summer of 1906.
    Back row, left to right: Helen, Carry, Gretel Wittig (who married Paul’s son Richard later that year), Mr. Barlo, Helen Krebs
    Front row, left to right: Louise Schum, Mrs. Kochler, Mr. Kochler, Alex Wittig, Paul Krebs (with Clara on his lap), Mrs. Barlo, Elsbeth Krebs

  • Family Photo, 1906

    This photo would likely have been taken around the time of Gretel Wittig’s marriage Paul Krebs’ son Richard, in 1906.
    Left to right: Margarethe (Gretel) Wittig Krebs, Richard Krebs Jr., Paul Krebs, Helen Krebs, Elsbeth Wittig Krebs, Carrie Krebs, Clara Krebs, Rudolph Krebs

  • Paul & Elsbeth Krebs, June 1923

    Paul and Elsbeth eventually left Philadelphia and retired to a farm in Ottsville, Pennsylvania, where they lived for the rest of their lives. This photo was likely taken around the time of their fortieth anniversary.

  • Golden Wedding, 1933

    Paul and Elsbeth Krebs celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at their farm in Ottsville, Penn. The china set they received for the occasion is in GAHM’s collection.

  • Paul Krebs & Dogs, 1942

Information:


Museum Hours:

Tuesdays – Fridays

from 11 am – 5 pm
For information, tickets, or groups contact the German-American Heritage Foundation at info@gahmusa.org or (202) 467-5000.

Location:

719 6th St. NW, Washington, DC 20001

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