Myrtle Otto Hanke was born in Newton, Massachusetts, on 7 May 1922. She grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and graduated from Brookline High School in 1939. Hanke returned to school for a postgraduate course and then worked for the National Fire Protection Association.
Hanke joined the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in October 1942. In December she went to basic training at Iowa State Teachers’ College in Cedar Falls, and then in February 1943 she went to a month of cryptographic training in Washington, D.C. Hanke then worked at the Naval Communications Annex in D.C. for the remainder of the war, transferring to a larger crypotographic unit after six months in Washington. She left the WAVES as a chief petty officer in 1947.
After the war, Hanke moved to Chicago, Illinois, and attended Columbia College, where she met her husband. She had children and worked for a number of companies, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, IBM, and Honeywell. Her husband was in the navy during World War II and the Korean War.