A peek behind the Iron Curtain

Alumna, author Shirley H. Perry to speak about her days as a CIA operative during the Cold War

Shirley H. Perry, a Washington University in St. Louis alumna and author of the recently released After Many Days: My Life as a Spy and Other Grand Adventures, will tell about her days as a CIA operative during the Cold War at a reading and book signing at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8, in Tisch Commons in the Danforth University Center at Washington University.

Courtesy of Rob Perry

Her talk, which is free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by Alumni Relations, the Career Center and Arts & Sciences. Copies of her book will be available for purchase and signing.

Perry also will discuss her travels to Berlin and East Germany during the Cold War to a class in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures in Arts & Sciences on Tuesday, Nov. 9, the 21st anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The advanced undergraduate class, “Germany Today,” is taught by Jennifer Kapczynski, PhD, assistant professor of German.

Perry, a drama and English major, both in Arts & Sciences, graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in 1950. The recipient of the faculty prize for outstanding senior and a graduate fellowship, she enrolled as a graduate student in WUSTL’s psychology department in Arts & Sciences.

Not sure her graduate studies were right for her and needing part-time work to make ends meet, she went to WUSTL’s career center, where — in her words — she “spied a cryptic notice that intrigued” her.

Perry inquired about the job posting and was handed a 15-page application form for a job with the Central Intelligence Agency.

“With the optimism of youth, I quit my graduate program and went back home, in nearby Illinois, to await my preliminary clearance, buoyed up by expectations of adventure and independence,” she writes in her book, released Nov. 1.

Within a year, the native of Alton, Ill., was working as a case officer for the CIA, for whom she worked from 1951-1964. Her first overseas assignment was in 1952 to Vienna, Austria, then a partitioned city within the Soviet zone of a partitioned nation.

Her book details her years of service as a CIA operative during the Cold War, living in Vienna — through what she describes as the “coldest days of the Cold War” — life behind the Iron Curtain, to her travels around the Middle East and Europe during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Of particular interest, she notes, is the vetting and recruitment of the first Soviet double agent, in which she had a role in that operation.

She also details her life after the CIA years, during which she founded the American School of Luxembourg, in Luxembourg City, earned an MBA in Toronto, traveled with a theater group to Russia, and returned to Vienna.

For more information about Perry’s Nov. 8 lecture, call (314) 935-7379 or e-mail ncwest@wustl.edu.