July 17, 2012

Celebrating Women Special Agents: Joanne Pierce Misko

How a Former Nun Became an FBI Agent

Joanne Pierce Misko was one of the first two women special agents in 1972. This interview was conducted on June 22, 2012.

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Joanne Pierce Misko grew up in Niagara Falls, New York, the daughter and sister of police officers. Out of college, Pierce entered the convent of the Sisters of Mercy in Buffalo, New York, where she taught middle and high school students for 10 years.

“I met an FBI agent who came to our school doing recruiting, and I talked to him, and that’s how I eventually got involved in applying to the Bureau,” said Misko, 71, during an interview at her home in Arizona where she lives with her husband, Michael Misko, himself a former FBI agent. “I was looking for something to do after leaving the convent and this was an opportunity that presented itself.”


Misko joined the FBI as a researcher at the Training Academy in 1970, but when Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray opened the special agent position to females in 1972, Misko’s supervisor asked if she had any interest in applying. “Absolutely I would be interested,” Misko said. The head of the Training Division met with Misko to explain what it would be like and asked her if she was absolutely sure about it.

“He wanted me to do it,” said Misko, who was 31 at the time. “But he wanted me to know all the pluses and minuses of doing this. I said, ‘Okay. I still want to do it.’”

In the FBI Academy, the hardest part was the physical training—the timed two-mile run and the pull-ups. Learning to shoot a .38 revolver took some time. The academics came easiest for Misko because that had always been her strong suit. She trained frequently with her roommate, a 25-year-old Marine named Susan Roley Malone, and they leaned on each other to get through the 14 weeks.

"I was looking for something to do after leaving the convent and this was an opportunity that presented itself."

Joanne Pierce Misko, FBI Special Agent
Susan Roley Malone was one of the first two women special agents in 1972. This interview was conducted on June 21, 2012.

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“Just two of us were in the same boat, so to speak,” she said. “So you’re there for each other.”

On orders night, when newly minted special agents find out where they will be heading for their first assignment, Misko had hoped for Miami. She drew St. Louis instead. But who was she to complain? “It was an assignment and I was going to be a special agent,” the enthusiastic rookie remembered. “It’s a new adventure, right?”

Misko said her boss in the St. Louis Division accepted her immediately and assigned her to a white-collar crime squad, where she spent 10 months, then to a squad that tracked down wanted fugitives and military deserters. She fondly remembers one case where a scofflaw she collared was insulted that the FBI had the temerity to send a woman after him.

“In St. Louis, they just let me be an agent and do my work like everybody else,” Misko said. “That’s the way you prove yourself—by doing the job you were sent to do.”

In early 1973, Misko was deployed to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, working 12-hour days for seven weeks during the American Indian Movement siege. At one point she found herself in an armored personnel carrier, taking hostile fire and feeding rounds into her fellow agents’ M16 rifles.

“At the time it’s going on you don’t think about it,” she said. “But afterwards, when you go back, you think, ‘My God, what could have happened?’”

Misko was later sent to the Pittsburgh Division, where she met her husband. She went on to become one of the first female supervisors at FBI Headquarters, where she ran the unit in charge of new agent applications.

Misko was an agent for 22 years before retiring in 1994. She then became an audit investigator for a major bank, relying heavily on her extensive experience working white-collar crimes. Though it’s been 18 years since she wore an FBI shield, she remains close to many of her fellow agents to this day.

“The hardest thing about leaving the Bureau is leaving the people,” she said. “The FBI is a family and you get very, very close and you feel part of an organization and part of that group. It was a privilege, really, and it was a wonderful career.”