Patricia Van Delden, (1908-unknown). Alias: Sonneveer.
Van Delden was a Los Angeles native who studied biology in Munich, Zurich, and Vienna in the 1930s, and married a Dutch electrical engineer in 1939. After he was captured by the Nazis in 1942 for sabotage, and later died in a concentration camp, she continued his work transmitting communications between Germany, Holland, and the State Department.
Patricia excelled at spying, becoming a leader of the Dutch Underground, for which she later received the Order of Orange-Nassau from the Netherlands government. She joined the State Department in 1948 and worked her way up to leading the Amerika Haus program in Germany – where Virginia Fontaine interviewed with her for a job. The job never happened when Van Delden told Virginia that the State Department prefers to hire un-married women, although she was well-qualified to fill the position as an art liaison.
Soon after, in 1952, Van Delden was transferred to Japan to head up twenty-three cultural centers. She returned to the Hague in 1960-63 with the US Information Agency and became known as a skilled “information strategist.” She later married Bart van der Laan and retired to the South of France in 1971.
To learn more about Van Delden, we reached out to Giles Scott-Smith, who wrote extensively about US foreign leader programs. He answered, “Her work in Japan and Germany, and later in the Netherlands, plus her subsequent departure for France with van der Laan, who was himself a curious character, do all point to a life that had its fair share of clandestine activities. But that is very difficult to bring to the surface.”
Subsequently, after reading Lara Prescott’s book, The Secrets We Kept, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019), we are not surprised by Van Delden’s life. The Secrets We Kept unveils that many women worked in the State Department as furtive couriers and information gatherers during the Cold War in Europe.
Contact the Fontaine Archive at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to read these articles we referenced (see below) about Van Delden, and shop Trusted Eye: Post War-World II Adventures of a Fearless Art Advocate to read more about Virginia Fontaine’s encounters with women spies.
Networks of Empire: The US State Department’s Foreign Leader Program in the Netherlands, France, and Britain 1950-1970, (P.I.E.Peter Lang, 2008).
The Evening Sun (Hanover, PA), February 19, 1952, p.3. Julia McCarthy “Patria van Delden A Patriotic Forger”.
Daily News (New York, New York), October 24, 1945, p.35.
Nat Barrows,” Angeleno Heroine in Spy Thriller,” Los Angeles Times, October 16, 1945 p1.