Winthrop University: Winthrop Alumna Jeuel Bannister Esmacher Awarded the Order of the Palmetto
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Winthrop Alumna Jeuel Bannister Esmacher Awarded the Order of the Palmetto

August 31, 2021

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Jeuel Esmacher was among many young women recruited during World War II to decode enemy messages. The workers were sworn to secrecy as they worked to decode in languages, such as Japanese and Russian, whose alphabets differ from English.
  • The work that Esmacher and others performed was not disclosed until the 2017 publication of the New York Times bestselling book, “Code Girls: The Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II” by Liza Mundy. Esmacher was one of several women interviewed for the book.

ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA – Jeuel Bannister Esmacher has been named the latest recipient of the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor in South Carolina.

After graduating from Winthrop in 1944, Esmacher worked in King’s Mountain, North Carolina, as the first female high school band director in the state. While there, she was recruited by the U.S. Department of Defense to move to Washington, D.C., to work on a mysterious project. 

With American men signing up to fight in different parts of the world, the U.S. Army and Navy turned for help to college-educated women who had an affinity for puzzles, math and music. The military trained the women to look for patterns within enemy messages intercepted by U.S. military intelligence. 

The women were sworn to secrecy as they worked to decode in languages, such as Japanese and Russian, whose alphabets differ from English.

The work that Esmacher and others performed was not disclosed until the recent publication of the New York Times bestselling book, “Code Girls: The Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II” by Liza Mundy. Esmacher was one of several women interviewed for the book. She believed the Department of Defense contacted her because she had taken every course in cryptanalysis that the Army offered on Winthrop’s campus. Those courses, in conjunction with her degree in music, made her an ideal candidate for service. 

Winthrop’s Interim President, George Hynd, noted Esmacher as “someone who epitomizes a Winthrop graduate and a distinguished South Carolinian.”

During her 75th class reunion in 2019, Esmacher received the highest alumna honor, the Mary Mildred Sullivan award, for her selfless dedication of time, energy and talent in service to others. The 97-year-old Winthrop alumna lives in her hometown of Anderson, South Carolina. 

More information may be found on Esmacher in the Fall 2019 Winthrop Magazine.

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Last Updated: 10/4/21