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Intelligence officer did fieldwork for OSS and CIA

Cordelia Dodson Hood ’36, MA ’41

A picture of Cordelia Dodson Hood

Cordelia Dodson Hood ’36, MA ’41, July 14, 2011, in Damariscotta, Maine.

Cordelia grew up in Milwaukie, Oregon, and transferred to Reed from the University of Oregon. “The professors at Reed were more immediate. They were human beings; you could talk to them. And they were interesting people. They forced you into thinking and not just coasting along.” Cordelia’s memories of Reed included the influence of the Spanish Civil War on campus life and time spent skiing with Austrian exchange student Otto Urbach, who taught ski classes on Mount Hood.

After earning a BA from Reed in literature, she decided to pursue graduate work in German. (“I think a lot of the German literature, sort of Sturm and Drang type of thing, appeals to youth.”) In a master’s program at Reed, she taught introductory courses in German before going to Vienna on a fellowship, accompanied by her brother, Daniel B. Dodson ’41, and her sister, Lisbeth. She was attending an opera on March 11, 1938, when Hitler invaded Austria.

“Things just happened so fast. All of our civilian rights, the police system, certain protections that everyone took for granted were just gone.” She and her brother and sister quickly returned to the U.S. and were later able to help Karl Urbach ’42—Otto’s brother—escape from Austria.

In 1941, Cordelia earned an MA from Reed and went to Washington, D.C., where she got a job in the Military Intelligence Department. “I was so upset about what was happening in Europe that I wanted to help in some way.” She was then recruited into the Office of Strategic Services. Her knowledge of German and French brought her into intelligence and counterintelligence work with future CIA director Allen Dulles in Berne, Switzerland.

Fieldwork for the OSS involved incredible challenges, such as transporting prisoners via secret night flights and using “ultra material,” including the Enigma cryptographic machine in London. “So many things I did at that time, I did without thinking; I just didn’t have time to think about fear.” (Her work was mentioned in the book Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS.) In Switzerland, she met her future husband, fellow OSS operative William J. Hood. Following the war, the couple worked in Vienna for the newly formed CIA. Cordelia’s intelligence duties took her to various locations in central and western Europe until 1980, when she retired to a home at Pemaquid Point, on the coast of Maine. Her marriage to William dissolved in 1975.

“Reed stayed very much with me, and what training I had in using my brain and examining what I was being told was very useful in working in the intelligence world. It’s thinking habits that are very important, to be analytical and seeking as much factual material as you can find, which is what you wind up doing if you’re an analyst in the intelligence world. You’re trying to find facts and you’re trying to find information that your opposing country doesn’t want you to find.”

Cordelia moved to Damariscotta in 1998 to live with her beloved sister, who survives her.

An interesting connection to Emilio Pucci MA ’37 is told in "Thinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," in Reed magazine, March 2014.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2011

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