Marion Frieswyk: The First Female Intelligence Cartographer


    Marion Frieswyk was a 21-year-old graduate student when the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) headhunted her for the Cartography Department of the Map Section of the OSS. Whilst at the time, the OSS did have women working within the Map Division, records indicate that Marion was indeed the first within the Cartography Department.

    The OSS was the first formal independent Intelligence agency within the US. The organisation was formed in 1942, designed to centralise and improve intelligence processes.

    Marion Frieswyk
    (Img; Marion Frieswyk – far left – pictured with colleagues in front of the National Archives Building; via NY Times)

    So What?

    The cartography division of the OSS was highly successful in its goals. The department was able to painstakingly produce incredibly detailed three-dimensional maps to provide to military and naval forces.

    The CIA has subsequently praised the work of the OSS map division as highly involved with the planning strategy of the Allied Forces during World War Two. The OSS Map Division created documentation to assist with the Allied invasion of North Africa and Italy. Therefore, the OSS’ contribution to the US war effort was invaluable.

    What is GEOINT?

    The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation defines Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) as the “exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth. GEOINT consists of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information.”

    During the Second World War, analysts did not have resources such as satellite imagery, and as such, cartographers relied primarily on interpreting and visualising Intelligence gathered by field agents; this is precisely what Marion Frieswyk worked on.

    Marion Frieswyk: The First Female Cartographer

    Marion Frieswyk worked within the OSS as the first female cartographer. Arthur Robinson, the famous geographer, approached Marion directly and offered her a job within the OSS. Her role centred around using Intelligence gathered by field officers to form accurate and useful maps to inform strategic military and naval decision-making.

    Marion Frieswyk
    (Img; Marion Frieswyk; via CIA)

    Marion Frieswyk and her team developed new ways to create detailed maps and 3D topographic models. Some of her most notable work includes producing maps to assist in the invasion of Italy by the Allied forces and maps for use by the Joint Chief of Staffs. In this respect, Marion Frieswyk’s contribution to cartography was instrumental in strategic decisions made during World War Two.

    Marion Frieswyk’s Legacy: Following the OSS

    The OSS dissolved in 1945, superseded by the CIA. Despite this, Marion Frieswyk remained part of the agency and ultimately worked in the CIA’s Cartography team until 1958.

    Marion Frieswyk is reported to be incredibly passionate about cartography, having noted its importance within Intelligence and strategic studies more generally.

    Marion Frieswyk
    (Img; Congressional Gold Medal presented in honour of the OSS’ contributions; via Washington Post)

    Congress awarded the OSS with a Congressional Gold Medal in 2018 to honour their contribution to the war effort.


    The work of Marion Frieswyk, as well as that of other prominent female cartographers who followed, was instrumental in strategic successes throughout World War Two. Not only did Marion Frieswyk become a pioneer for Cartography within Intelligence, but also for Women in Intelligence.

    Abbi Clark
    Abbi Clark
    Abbi is a Grey Dynamics's Intel Manager and a graduate in Chinese Studies from the University of Nottingham with an MA in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University London.

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