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Fri Feb 14, 2020, 03:06 PM

In 1933, two rebellious women bought a home in Virginia's woods. Then the CIA moved in.

Retropolis

In 1933, two rebellious women bought a home in Virginia’s woods. Then the CIA moved in.



Florence Thorne, left, and Margaret Scattergood purchased a house together in 1933. (Courtesy of Sarah Scattergood Blanchet/Newspapers.com)

By Jessica Contrera and Gillian Brockell
Feb. 14, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. EST

Before the spies came, the house was perfect.

Five thousand square feet, wide windows, a grand staircase, a front porch with a panoramic view of nature. The year was 1933, and Northern Virginia was still the countryside, even with Washington just across the Potomac. So it was the ideal retreat for Florence Thorne and Margaret Scattergood, two pioneers of the American labor movement who defied the gender expectations of their time.

“Florence said, ‘Of all the houses we looked at, this is the only one I would care to live in,’“ Scattergood recalled years later. “That was pretty final.”

The women lived at the estate for a decade before it appeared that some federal agencies were also looking to buy property across the Potomac. And they wanted the land where the big white house sat.

In 1948, Thorne, 71, and Scattergood, 54, made a deal: They would sell their 30 acres to the government, but only if they could live out the rest of their lives in their home. Any agency that acquired the land would have to abide by that agreement.

And that was how two rebellious ladies came to live on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency for nearly 40 years.

In the late 1950s, the CIA took over the land in Langley, Va., to build a headquarters that could accommodate its fast-growing operations. It kept growing, getting closer and closer to Scattergood and Thorne’s house but allowing them to keep their own entrance. The women were affectionately known at the CIA as “the sisters,” even though they weren’t related.

A census record lists Scattergood as Thorne’s “partner.” If that partnership included romance, it was a well-kept secret. Scattergood was a devoted Quaker, and Thorne was a Baptist-turned-Catholic. Scattergood’s family members, who have diligently kept records of her life, say the pair had separate bedrooms and never acknowledged a relationship beyond friendship.

“That was always the question,” said Meg Blanchet, a great-great-grandniece of “Aunt Marge.”

{snip}

Jessica Contrera
Jessica Contrera is a reporter on The Washington Post's local enterprise team. She writes about people whose lives are being transformed by the major events and issues in the news. Follow https://twitter.com/mjcontrera

Gillian Brockell
Gillian Brockell is a staff writer for The Washington Post's history blog, Retropolis. She has been at The Post since 2013 and previously worked as a video editor. Follow https://twitter.com/gbrockell

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Reply In 1933, two rebellious women bought a home in Virginia's woods. Then the CIA moved in. (Original post)
mahatmakanejeeves Friday OP
pandr32 Friday #1
dewsgirl Friday #2
pansypoo53219 Friday #3
JudyM Yesterday #4

Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Fri Feb 14, 2020, 03:10 PM

1. Very cool story!

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Fri Feb 14, 2020, 03:28 PM

2. I'm so used reading dark stories 90 percent of the time, it's

always a nice surprise, when I realize it's a good story halfway through.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Fri Feb 14, 2020, 08:37 PM

3. love forgotten history.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sun Feb 16, 2020, 09:47 AM

4. Interesting!

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