The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison

America's First Female Foreign Intelligence Agent

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In September 1918, World War I was nearing its end when Marguerite E. Harrison, a thirty-nine-year-old Baltimore socialite, wrote to the head of the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Division (MID) asking for a job. The director asked for clarification. Did she mean a clerical position? No, she told him. She wanted to be a spy.

Harrison, a member of a prominent Baltimore family, usually got her way. She had founded a school for sick children and wangled her way onto the staff of the Baltimore Sun. Fluent in four languages and knowledgeable of Europe, she was confident she could gather information for the U.S. government. The MID director agreed to hire her, and Marguerite Harrison became America’s first female foreign intelligence officer.

For the next seven years, she traveled to the world’s most dangerous places—Berlin, Moscow, Siberia, and the Middle East—posing as a writer and filmmaker in order to spy for the U.S. Army and U.S. Department of State. With linguistic skills and knack for subterfuge, Harrison infiltrated Communist networks, foiled a German coup, located American prisoners in Russia, and probably helped American oil companies seeking entry into the Middle East. Along the way, she saved the life of King Kong creator Merian C. Cooper, twice survived imprisonment in Russia, and launched a women’s explorer society whose members included Amelia Earhart and Margaret Mead.

As incredible as her life was, Harrison has never been the subject of a published book-length biography. Past articles and chapters about her life relied heavily on her autobiography published in 1935, which omitted and distorted key aspects of her espionage career. Elizabeth Atwood draws on newly discovered documents in the U.S. National Archives, as well as Harrison’s prison files in the archives of the Russian Federal Security Bureau in Moscow, Russia. Although Harrison portrayed herself as a writer who temporarily worked as a spy, this book documents that Harrison’s espionage career was much more extensive and important than she revealed. She was one of America’s most trusted agents in Germany, Russia and the Middle East after World War I when the United States sought to become a world power.



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Editorial Reviews

"The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison belongs among biographies of such women as Gertrude Bell and Margaret Mead. Atwood's narrative deserves a spot on the shelf between the bookends of WWI and the solidification of the Bolshevik experiment into a formidable Soviet state. A well-resourced contribution to the history of intelligence, with plenty of "cloak and dagger." —Ann Todd, author of OSS Operation Black Mail: One Woman’s Covert War Against the Imperial Japanese Army

“Atwood’s work is clearly an example of a woman overcoming social and political ‘glass ceilings’. Readers with an eye for female history will definitely find it both enlightening and empowering.” —The Reading Room

“Marguerite Harrison has always been a shadowy figure in the annals of U.S. intelligence. I was aware of her activities as a spy in Germany, Russia, and the Middle East after World War I, but I did not fully appreciate how truly groundbreaking she was until I read Elizabeth Atwood's remarkable new book. At a time when U.S. intelligence was in its formative stages and women were excluded from meaningful operational roles, Harrison stepped forward to offer her services to U.S. military intelligence. Atwood has written a carefully researched and written account of this amazing woman's life.” —James Olson, former Chief of CIA Counterintelligence and author of To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence
“A whip-smart tale of a daring, complicated woman, The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison delves into the mysterious career of a controversial American spy. Elizabeth Atwood holds Harrison up to the light, revealing how a wealthy widow from Maryland reinvented herself as a foreign agent and cut a swath through the 20th century.” —Jason Fagone, author of the bestselling The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies
The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison is so well written that I frequently forgot this is a true story. If you want to read about a woman who squeezed adventure out of life like an orange, read this book. 4 stars!” —Diane Reviews Books
“Book tells the incredible story of the first woman hired by the American Army’s Military Intelligence to work internationally during the First World War. With passages from Siberia to Brazil, the story involves war, capitalism, bolshevism, Women’s Suffrage, the Treaty of Versailles and much more…. Above all, the plot speaks of a woman who, trying to do it right, did it wrong and by doing it wrong, did it right. It defines the word ‘liberation’, literally and metaphorically, and will make the reader understand aspects that demonstrate that history is a game; the world, a chess board and its directions go ‘through difficulties to the stars’.” —O Velho General
“The story … [is] very captivating…. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about this remarkable woman. I did enjoy the story itself, even though it did drag at parts.” —Dynamic Book Nerd
“Author Elizabeth Atwood has done a remarkable job of digging up original documents and piecing together a story that is a genuine page-turner.” —La Gaceta
“...[F]or those interested in how espionage was conducted by the United States in the early twentieth century, this book might prove valuable.” —The Fandom Post
“A good spy story filled with impossibilities, Elizabeth Atwood’s biography of Marguerite Harrison, The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison: America’s First Female Foreign Intelligence Agent, unpacks Harrison’s life and accomplishments…. Atwood’s research makes this book worthwhile; Harrison’s life makes it a spy story for the ages.” —Security Management
The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison is a detailed and thorough portrait of a remarkable woman who possessed a zest for foreign intrigue and strong desire to shape historical events. Atwood’s book is a captivating testament to a trailblazer whose accomplishments and name have largely been lost to history but deserve recognition.” —HistoryNet
“Atwood’s biography of Marguerite Harrison is an excellent read. It is an admirable account of Harrison’s life as the first female foreign intelligence agent. Each chapter captures the essence of Harrison as a journalist and her work as a spy for several intelligence agencies….. What can we readers gain from this book? First, journalists are well trained in gleaning information from sources. Second, espionage is filled with danger at every turn. Third, women are extraordinary.” —Air & Space Power Journal
“Marguerite Harrison’s legacy deserves to be known and her adventures narrated, and this book does her justice.” —On the Old Barbed Wire