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Women Cryptologists of World War II

First Day of Issue Date: October 18, 2022

First Day of Issue Location: Annapolis Junction, MD

About This Stamp

During World War II, some 11,000 women labored day and night, helping to process and decipher an endless stream of enemy military messages. Their work was by turns frustrating and exhilarating — and one of the conflict’s best-kept secrets. With this stamp, the U.S. Postal Service honors all of the women cryptologists of World War II, whose service played an inestimable role in the Allied victory.

The stamp art features an image from a World War II–era WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Service) recruitment poster with an overlay of characters from the “Purple” code. The poster was designed by John Falter (1910–1982), who designed more than 300 recruiting posters during his military service. The Purple code was used by the Japanese government to encrypt diplomatic messages. Genevieve Grotjan, a cryptologist with the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, discovered the key to cracking the code in September 1940. Her breakthrough allowed the United States to read and exploit the information conveyed in Japanese diplomatic messages for the duration of the war.

In the pane selvage, seemingly random letters (ZRPH QF UB SWRORJLVWV RIZRUOGZDULL, FLSKHU, DQDOBCH, and VHFUHW) can be deciphered to reveal some key words. The reverse side of the pane discloses the cipher needed to read the words.

Many women cryptologists were civilians recruited while still in college or working as schoolteachers. Thousands more were military personnel, volunteers who enlisted following the establishment of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in May 1942 and of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), part of the U.S. Naval Reserve, in July 1942.

They deciphered Japanese fleet communications, helped prevent German U-boats from sinking vital cargo ships, and worked to break the encryption systems that revealed Japanese shipping routes and diplomatic messages. They also built high-speed machines that allowed cryptologists to break German messages encrypted by the Enigma machine, intercepted enemy communications, and ensured that encrypted U.S. messages were secure and error-free — an early form of cybersecurity.

Sworn to secrecy under penalty of treason, the women cryptologists of World War II remained silent about their crucial and far-reaching contributions for decades. Today, they are widely considered STEM pioneers, especially because their wartime work coincided with the development of modern computer technology. Their contributions opened the door for women in the military and have helped shape intelligence and information security efforts for future generations.

Antonio Alcalá served as art director and designer for this stamp.

The Women Cryptologists of World War II stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp. This Forever stamp will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce price.

Stamp Art Director, Stamp Designer

Antonio Alcalá

Antonio Alcalá served on the Postmaster General’s Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee from 2010 until 2011, when he left to become an art director for the U.S. Postal Service's stamp development program.

He is founder and co-owner of Studio A, a design practice working with museums and arts institutions. His clients include: the National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of Women in the Arts, The Phillips Collection, and Smithsonian Institution. He also lectures at colleges including the Corcoran College of Art + Design, SVA, Pratt, and MICA.

In 2008, his work and contributions to the field of graphic design were recognized with his selection as an AIGA Fellow. He has judged international competitions for the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, AIGA, and Graphis. Alcalá also serves on the Smithsonian National Postal Museum and Poster House Museum’s advisory councils. His designs are represented in the AIGA Design Archives, the National Postal Museum, and the Library of Congress Permanent Collection of Graphic Design.

Alcalá graduated from Yale University with a BA in history and from the Yale School of Art with an MFA in graphic design. He lives with his wife in Alexandria, Virginia.

First Day of Issue Ceremony

First Day of Issue Date: October 18, 2022
First Day of Issue Location: Annapolis Junction, MD

Stamp Stories

  • Hidden Figures

    Inside the world of cryptology, with a stamp commemorating the female laborers who deciphered military messages during World War II.