Recognizing Women in Foreign Affairs, 1957

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In 1957, the U.S. Foreign Service had relatively few women members and up to that date only seven women had ever held the position of Minister or Ambassador (head of a diplomatic post).  The first woman joined the ranks of diplomats only in 1922 (see here for more on that).  Nevertheless, most, but not all, women working in the field of foreign affairs continued to do so in support (clerical, administrative, and fiscal duties) or professional Civil Service positions rather than as Foreign Service Officers.  This began to change during and after World War II and more women entered the Foreign Service.[i]

In November 1957, the General Federation of Women’s Club contacted the Department of State.  That organization was planning to devote the January 1958 issue of its monthly publication, called The Clubwoman, to the subject of international affairs.  Their plan was to include several photographs of women active in foreign affairs, including women officials from the Department of State and the Foreign Service.  To go along with that, they requested a statement by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.  In response, the Department prepared and Dulles signed the following statement, likely the first such pronouncement on the contribution of women in the realm of foreign affairs.[ii]

Sec of State Dulles praising women working in international affairs
Women in Foreign Affairs by John Foster Dulles, Nov 21, 1957

Today, women make up about 41% of the United States Foreign Service Generalist and about 29% of the United States Foreign Service Specialists[iii] and there are about 32 women serving as ambassador.


[i] For details see: Homer Calkin WOMEN IN THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE: THEIR ROLE IN AMERICAN FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Washington; GPO, 1978).

[ii] Statement by John Foster Dulles, Women in Foreign Affairs, November 21, 1957, file 611.00/11-2157, 1955-59 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.  Drafted by Ruth McKee in the Bureau of Public Affairs, Public Services Division (P/SEV) and tweaked ever so slightly by Joseph Greene in the Executive Secretariat (S/S).

[iii] Statistics as of June 20, 2019, from the Department of State.

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