Women in the Foreign Service — go own the night like the Fourth of July!

Updated: Mar 10, 2014 10:36 am PST: Clarified post to indicate that the WHA Assistant Secretary is a career CS, and added links to the bios of the five assistant secretaries on state.gov.

— Domani Spero

Lucile Atcherson was the first woman in the Foreign Service. She passed the Diplomatic Service examination in 1922 with the third-highest score, and was appointed a secretary in the Diplomatic Service on December 5, 1922. She was assigned as Third Secretary of the Legation in Berne, Switzerland, on April 11, 1925. She resigned on September 19, 1927, in order to get married.

Via the National Archives Text Message blog:

Lucile Atcherson was born in October 1894 in Columbus, Ohio. She graduated from Smith College in 1913 and subsequently did graduate and research work at Ohio State University and the University of Chicago. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement and during World War I worked overseas in the American Committee of Devastated France. She spoke French, German, and Spanish.

Atcherson began her quest to join the American diplomatic corps in 1921, enlisting the support of political leaders in her home state of Ohio. Department of State officials tried to steer her towards a clerk position where her war relief experience might be helpful. Instead, in May 1921, she applied for a position as a Diplomatic Secretary (a secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the time was one of importance; secretaries performed substantive work, not clerical duties, under the direction of the chief of mission). Her application was accepted and she subsequently passed the July 1922 Diplomatic Service examination, at which point she was placed on the list of those eligible for appointment.

Click here to see Ms. Atcherson’s December 5, 1922 job offer.

Source: Lucile Atcherson; Official Personnel Folders-Department of State; Record Group 146: Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission; National Archives, St. Louis, MO

Source: Lucile Atcherson; Official Personnel Folders-Department of State; Record Group 146: Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission; National Archives, St. Louis, MO

But baby, you’re a firework!

Other firsts:

Pattie H. Field was the first woman to enter the Foreign Service after passage of the Rogers Act. She was sworn in on April 20, 1925, served as a Vice Consul at Amsterdam, and resigned on June 27, 1929, to accept a job with the National Broadcasting Company.

First woman to head a geographic bureau: Rozanne Ridgway (FSO), Assistant Secretary for European and Canadian Affairs (1985).

Carol C. Laise was the first female FSO to become an Assistant Secretary of State.  No career female FSO has ever been appointed higher than the position of Assistant Secretary of State.  But for the first time ever, women are leading five of the six geographic bureaus in the State Department: Linda Thomas-Greenfield, AF; Victoria Nuland, EUR; Anne Patterson, NEA, all career Foreign Service;  Roberta Jacobson, WHA (career Civil Service) and Nisha Biswal Desa, SCA (formerly with USAID and HFAC).

How about career ambassadors?

Below via history.state.gov:

The class of Career Ambassador was first established by an Act of Congress on Aug 5, 1955, as an amendment to the Foreign Service act of 1946 (P.L. 84-250; 69 Stat. 537). Under its provisions, the President with the advice and consent of the Senate was empowered to appoint individuals to the class who had (1) served at least 15 years in a position of responsibility in a government agency, including at least 3 years as a Career Minister; (2) rendered exceptionally distinguished service to the government; and (3) met other requirements prescribed by the Secretary of State. Under the 1980 Foreign Service Act (P.L. 96-465; 94 Stat. 2084), which repealed the 1946 Act as amended, the President is empowered with the advice and consent of the Senate to confer the personal rank of Career Ambassador upon a career member of the Senior Foreign Service in recognition of especially distinguished service over a sustained period. 

This very small class of career diplomats accorded the personal rank of Career Ambassador has 55 members since its inception in 1955; seven are women, only three are in active service.

  • Frances Elizabeth Willis (Appointed to rank of career ambassador: March 20, 1962) Deceased July 23, 1983. She was the first female Foreign Service Officer to become an Ambassador; she was appointed to Switzerland in 1953, Norway in 1957 and Sri Lanka in 1961.
  • Mary A. Ryan (Appointed career ambassador: March 25, 1999); Deceased April 25, 2006.
  • Ruth A. Davis (Appointed career ambassador: April 1, 2002). Retired from the State Department in February 2009; recently a member of the AFSA Working Group on COM Guidelines.
  • A. Elizabeth Jones (Appointed career ambassador: October 12, 2004). Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near Eastern Affairs, June 2012/13.
  • Anne Woods Patterson (Appointed career ambassador: June 6, 2008). Confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in December 2013.
  • Nancy Jo Powell (Appointed career ambassador: January 3, 2011). Appointed U.S. Ambassador to India in February 2012.
  • Kristie Ann Kenney (Appointed career ambassador: September 26, 2012). Appointed U.S. Ambassador to Thailand in December 2010.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson meets with Saudi Interior Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Nayef at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 11, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson meets with Saudi Interior Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Nayef at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 11, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell at Aero India 2013 in Bangalore. (Photo by U.S. Consulate General in Chennai)

U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell at Aero India 2013 in Bangalore. (Photo by U.S. Consulate General in Chennai)

Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William Brownfield and Ambassador Kristie Kenney visited the Wildlife Forensic Science Unit at the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. There, they observed the scientists at work, who were trained under the ARREST (Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking) Program, funded by USAID Asia and implemented by the FREELAND Foundation.

US Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney with her husband, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William Brownfield during a visit to the Wildlife Forensic Science Unit at the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. There, they observed the scientists at work, who were trained under the ARREST (Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking) Program, funded by USAID Asia and implemented by the FREELAND Foundation. September 2013.                   Photo via US Embassy Bangkok

FSO Margot Carrington wrote about the state of women in the Foreign Service in 2013 in FSJ:

After starting from a low base (due, in part, to a longstanding policy requiring female FSOs to resign upon marriage), by 1990 women comprised just 13 percent of the Senior Foreign Service—even though they represented 25 percent of the Foreign Service generalist corps. The proportion of women in the senior ranks gradually rose, but took until 2005 to break the 30-percent mark. The number has hovered there ever since, even though women now make up 40 percent of Foreign Service generalists.

That despite having Madeline K. Albright (64th), Condoleezza Rice (66th) and Hillary Clinton (67th) as Secreatries of State.  Women in the FS have come a long way from the days when they had to quit their jobs just to get married, but there’s work to do. The posts with the highest numbers of female ambassadors still appear to be in Africa. Female U.S.ambassadors  to the G8 countries are registering between 0-1 in stats. We’re guessing career female diplomats get less than zero consideration when it comes to the selection of chiefs of mission in G8 countries. France (male ambassador appointed 65/female ambassador appointed 1) ; Italy (47/1); Japan 41/1); UK (68/1);Canada (31/0); Germany (49/0) and Russia (73/0).

Additional readings below via U.S. Diplomacy:

Also check out Challenges facing women in overseas diplomatic positions (2004), the Women in Diplomacy page of state.gov, and UKFCO’s Ambassadors in high heels.

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