In the 1950s and 60s, security within the U.S. government, including the State Department, was on high alert for internal risks, particularly Communists and what were considered to be sexual deviants—homosexuals and promiscuous individuals. Investigating homosexuality became a core function of the Department’s Office of Security, which ferreted out more people for homosexuality than for being a Communist.
In 1950, a subcommittee chaired by Maryland Senator Millard Tydings convened to investigate Joseph McCarthy’s notorious list of “205 known communists.” Tydings worked to discredit McCarthy’s claim, but, in the process, the subcommittee concluded that the State Department was overrun with “sexual perverts,” part of the so-called “Lavender Scare.” Read more
Mari-Luci Jaramillo, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 1977-1980, rose from poverty in New Mexico to a life of diplomacy and advocacy of civil rights for Hispanics. With a husband, three children and a factory job, she completed an undergraduate degree at New Mexico Highlands University with the goal of teaching elementary school. In 1977, President Carter selected her to be ambassador to Honduras, making her the first Hispanic-American female Ambassador and the first woman to head an embassy in the Western Hemisphere. Ambassador Jaramillo drew upon her personal experiences with poverty and discrimination in her public service as U.S. ambassador and civil rights advocate, adhering to and respecting the values of her Latino family and community throughout her life.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had invaded Lebanon in June 1982 with the goal of pushing out the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). After newly-elected President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated on September 14th, the IDF invaded West Beirut, which included the Sabra neighborhood and the Shatila refugee camp, which predominately housed Muslim refugees. The IDF ordered their allies in Lebanon, the Kataeb Party (also called the Phalange), a right-wing Maronite Christian party, to clear the area of PLO militants to facilitate the IDF advance.
On the night of September 16th, Phalange militants entered the camp and began to massacre refugees. The killing continued throughout the night until a halt was called by the IDF the next day. Read more
In the decades following World War II, as colonies across the globe gained independence, the United States worked to establish embassies and consulates in these new nations, some in the remotest areas of the world. Papua New Guinea, which gained autonomy from Australia on September 16, 1975, was one such case.
Mary Olmsted was assigned as the first Consul General to Papua New Guinea in early 1975 and was later promoted to become the first U.S. Ambassador to the country after independence. She describes the challenges she and her small staff faced in pioneering America’s first diplomatic outpost in this developing country, including dealing with such minor details as not having enough chairs for guests. She spent five years watching Papua New Guinea evolve from colony to independent nation, and her diplomatic status changed with that of the country in which she served.
Every Foreign Service Officer can have a difficult job of navigating cultural differences, memorizing customs and sticking to protocol while at their post. The long list of do’s and don’ts apply equally to a Foreign Service spouse, and while they usually do a commendable job, there have been a few cases when they have made noticeable (and comical) slip-ups. Whether it’s committing a fashion faux pas or exuding a provocative character when interacting with the locals, FSO spouses are under a lot of scrutiny.
In fact, the wives of Foreign Service officers used to receive their own efficiency report, along with their husbands, which kept track of their merits, achievements and blunders. Their efficiency reports were closely monitored and correlated directly to whether their husbands could get promoted, which created even more stress. Herewith are a few examples that probably did not help their husbands’ reputations. Read more
Frances Willis was the first female to rise to the rank of Ambassador as a career Foreign Service Officer. After she was graduated from Stanford with a PhD in Political Science in 1923, she taught political science at Gardner College and Vassar College until she decided to switch careers, saying “I didn’t want to just teach political science, I wanted to be a part of it.”
She passed the Foreign Service exam in 1927 and left shortly after for her first post in Chile, followed by posts in Sweden, Great Britain, Belgium, Spain and Finland. She rose quickly through the ranks, showing her competency and talent for diplomacy. President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her Ambassador to Switzerland in 1953, making her the first career female Ambassador. (Eisenhower also named Clare Boothe Luce Ambassador to Italy that same year as a political appointee.) She subsequently served as the Ambassador to Norway (1957-1961) and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka (1962-1964).
As part of her career, she witnessed many important historical events: she was serving in Brussels in 1940 when World War II broke out and the Nazis invaded Belgium. In addition, she served as the Ambassador to Switzerland during a time when women were not even permitted to vote in the country and she worked closely alongside Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first female Prime Minister and head of government in the world, while serving as Ambassador to Ceylon.
She retired after her post in Sri Lanka in 1964, moving on to serve in various positions and committees for the U.S. government. She died on July 23, 1983, after battling a long illness. In 2006, the U.S. posthumously honored her by selecting her as one of six “Distinguished American Diplomats” to place on commemorative stamps. (Clifton Wharton, Chip Bohlen, and Philip Habib are three others.)
James Cowles Hart Bonbright served as the Second Secretary at Embassy Brussels from 1941-1942. He was interviewed by Peter Jessup on February 26, 1986. Joseph A. Mendenhall served as the Economic and Political officer in Bern from 1951-1955 and was interviewed by Horace Torbert beginning February 1991. Harry A. Cahill served as the Vice Consul in Oslo, Norway from 1959-1961. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning on July 1993. William B. Dunham served at the State Department’s Office of Swiss Benelux Affairs from 1954-1956. His experiences are extracted from his memoir given to ADST in 1996.
Fisher Howe served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Oslo, Norway from 1958-1962 and was interviewed by Kennedy beginning on February 1998. Larue R. Lutkins served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) from 1962-1965 and was interviewed by Kennedy beginning October 1990.
Martha A. Rau was the spouse of Foreign Service Officer Donald Rau, who served as Consular and Political Officer in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from 1959-1961. She was interviewed by Pam Stratton beginning September 1997. Harry I. Odell served as the Economic Officer in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 1961-1964. He was interviewed by Peter Moffat beginning April 2000. Walter A. Lundy served as the Consular/Political Officer in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 1961-1963. He was interviewed by Raymond Ewing beginning September 2005.
“The Department hoped Frances would marry and get out of the way”
James Cowles Hart Bonbright, Second Secretary, Embassy Brussels, 1941-1942
BONBRIGHT: The other second secretary was Frances Willis, a lady who had entered the Service in the same class at the same time as I had. So we had known each other.
She was an interesting and hard-working and intelligent woman. There had been women in the Service before her, but most of them had married or gotten out for one reason or another. I think the Department rather hoped that this would happen to Frances. In our Foreign Service school days, one of our other classmates — I won’t name him here, it doesn’t matter — was very taken with her and courted her.
In a most unusual move, the Department sent him and Frances to the same post in Chile, obviously in the hope that they would marry and get Frances out of the way. But she resisted the temptation, if it was a temptation, and stayed behind, and became the first career woman to achieve the rank of ambassador and ended up in Switzerland. A fine woman.
“She was a very human individual”
Joseph A. Mendenhall, Economic and Political officer, Bern, 1951-1955
MENDENHALL: [Minister Richard C.] Patterson was succeeded by Frances Willis, who is very famous in the Foreign Service as our first career woman officer to be named as an ambassador. Indeed, very surprisingly, the Swiss who did not even permit women to vote agreed to accept her as the first American Ambassador to Switzerland.
I enjoyed very much working for her. She was a very precise lady who knew her own mind. I got along extremely well with her and enjoyed it very much. Not that I think any of us did anything of very great significance in our Swiss assignment.
She was also a very human individual. When my family and I left Switzerland in June of 1955, we took a train from Bern, about 5:50 a.m., for Genoa in order to catch a ship. She, the ambassador, insisted upon being down at the train station at that hour to see us off — a junior officer. This was rather typical of the very human attitude which she took towards all members of her staff.
“She was, in short, a first-rate FSO”
William B. Dunham, Swiss Benelux Affairs, 1954-1956
DUNHAM: The embassies in Brussels and Luxembourg City provided similar helpful experiences as did the Embassy in Bern where I met up with a good friend, Frances Willis. She was the senior and the most distinguished woman in the Foreign Service. I had worked with her in the Department and all of us who knew her were elated when she was appointed Ambassador to Switzerland, the first time for the U.S. to have an ambassador there — and a woman at that in a country where women didn’t have the vote.
Frances had been just such a trailblazer throughout her long career and she continued to be so as she reached the top levels of the Foreign Service. She was appointed to the rank of Career Minister when it was instituted; when the Career Ambassador rank [the equivalent of a four-star general] was established, she was again promoted to that rank. All who knew her work and her contributions to our foreign policy and to U.S. representation abroad knew she had fully earned such recognition and distinction….
Those of us who knew and worked with Frances at home and abroad were well aware of such qualities. I have attended meetings where Frances, the only woman present, quietly and unobtrusively steered the proceedings and moved them along to useful conclusion. Nothing pushy or manipulative, simply a deft touch, good humor, impressive competence and the authority that brings with it.
She was, in short, a first-rate FSO. The visit to Switzerland was, as one would expect, as well-organized and helpful as the visit in Holland. In addition to all the official activities, there were some opportunities to travel about and also to meet officials and others socially. At one such affair Frances invited a large group to a film showing, with dinner before for a small group.
I had the good luck to sit next to her mother, a tall, spare, unpretentious, Lincolnesque lady with a lively spirit and sense of humor. She kept all of us who were seated near her highly entertained.
The dining room opened through a wide doorway into a large reception room and from our side of the table we could see a few people beginning to arrive as we were finishing dinner. The butler quickly closed the big double doors, at which point Mrs. Willis confided, “He’s doing that so they won’t feel bad because they weren’t invited to dinner, too.”…
“Showing the world that being a woman was not a disadvantage in any way”
Harry A. Cahill, Vice Consul in Oslo, 1959-1961
CAHILL: I served as her protocol officer in addition to my regular consular duties. Protocol is challenging when the chief of mission is a single woman, when there is a monarchy with a widower king, when the government is socialist labor, and when there is abundant aquavit and cold weather.
Q: How did Ambassador Willis operate?
CAHILL: She moved with strength. I think she liked to see herself as fair and tough. She slipped on the ice on the way to a speaking event in western Norway and broke her leg, refused to go for medical treatment until the speech was done. She bravely stood at the podium and went through the whole program without flinching. She was slightly crippled from this for the rest of her life.
In all her work she was firm and decisive, showing to the world that being a woman was not a disadvantage in any way.
“She knew where every bit of dust was in the embassy”
Fisher Howe, Deputy Chief of Mission, Oslo, 1958-1962
HOWE: Frances, bless her memory, was a very competent, intelligent lady who was however a detailist if I ever saw one. She knew where every bit of dust was in the embassy and went through every detail of every communication. I suppose it was very good for me to come under that as my first post in the Foreign Service. She delegated very little although she was hauled back to the general assembly to be a liaison with other countries and so I had long periods of being chargé.
Frances delegated to my wife all of the uxorial [wifely] responsibilities, calling on other ambassador’s wives, calling on all the Foreign Service people. They had some magnificent house that goes with the DCM, a very modern house, on the outskirts of Norway. Well, Frances, it’s worth an anecdote.
We had a new embassy constructed while we were there and it was done by [famed architect Eero] Saarinen. He came over for the dedication. There was a debate between him and the Ambassador as to where the seal was going to be put. He had designed a Viking traditional building and he wanted a Viking shield to be placed in stone out in front of the building.
Frances said, “The regulations say the shield of the United States will be affixed to the U.S. embassy.” She wanted it slapped on the wall. Saarinen said that was aesthetically outrageous.
The ambassador won, as she would.
“She was not a delegator”
Larue R. Lutkins, Deputy Chief of Mission, Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), 1962-1965
Q: You had two ambassadors there, Frances Willis and Cecil Lyon. I wonder if you could compare and contrast their styles.
LUTKINS: Well, that’s a very good question. And there certainly was a marked contrast there. They were both old pros. Frances Willis was our first career woman ambassador. She had already served as chief of mission in Bern, Switzerland, and then in Oslo, and this was to be her last post.
She was a thorough professional, had come up from the ranks and knew the Service inside out and the regulations, and knew everybody’s job in the embassy better than they did. But she was not a delegator. I don’t mean to say that she didn’t have a good grasp of the overall situation, but she couldn’t resist immersing herself in every detail in every section of the embassy.
It didn’t leave too much for the DCM to do except carry out some of her wishes, naturally. I found her a delightful woman and a very intelligent, able woman, but the contrast with her and Cecil Lyon was very marked.
I served with Frances Willis for two years and Cecil for one. Cecil Lyon’s approach was that, after about three months of working together and sizing me up, he said, “The embassy is yours. I’ll concentrate on the big picture, and you run the embassy.”
“She really was upset if there was an empty seat at her table”
Martha A. Rau, Spouse of Foreign Service Officer Donald Rau, Consular and Political Officer in Colombo, 1959-1961
RAU: When we came into the Foreign Service, it was simply understood that a wife would have an efficiency report written on her along with her husband, that we would entertain — that was part of our husband’s job, that we were expected to entertain all his contacts, as many of the local officials as possible. And so we didn’t have any choice, it was just assumed that this was our duty. And I did not object. In fact it was a wonderful experience….
You wore your white gloves, you presented your [calling] card, you stayed 15 minutes to half an hour and you were on call for whatever your principal officer or his wife needed you to do. You always arrived at official functions 15 minutes ahead of time. If it was necessary for you to bring food or drink or furnish something, you did that. When there was a party and if they needed help, you always appeared.
Frances Willis was our Ambassador in Sri Lanka when we were there and she was of the old school. The Sri Lankans were notorious for arriving at parties with either a man without his wife or a wife without a husband, and always coming late. So Frances Willis insisted upon having a complete table. She really was upset if there was an empty seat at her table. She would always ask an extra embassy couple to come to the dinner and then depending on if a man arrived without his wife, the wife stayed. If the wife came without her husband, the husband stayed.
And I know many times I had to stay while Donald went home to fill in the extra place at the table. Because this is one of her things that she just could not tolerate.
When I was seven, eight, nine months pregnant in Sri Lanka and the fleet would come in — that’s when the naval vessels used to come in for a visit, and we always entertained them — I was expected to be at the reception, on my feet, entertaining, assisting.
And she said, “I expect you to do your duty until you are eight, nine months pregnant. When you’re in your last month, you won’t have to participate in social affairs. But you were expected to support your principal officer.” And again, yes it was inconvenient, but it was also a real learning experience.
“She was one of the genuine brains that I met in the Foreign Service”
Harry I. Odell, Economic Officer in Colombo, 1961-1964
ODELL: Frances Willis. You’ve heard of her. She was a career officer, of course, and she was our first minister at that time to Switzerland. Then when we raised the legation to embassy rank, she became the first ambassador. Then she was subsequently Ambassador to Norway and then her sort of retirement post was Sri Lanka. That was a good thing for me.
She was one of the genuine brains that I met in the Foreign Service. I met a lot of very bright people, but she was in her 60s at the time. She doesn’t seem all that old to me now, but did then. She was bright and very demanding. She could have quite a plodding demeanor that some people didn’t like. But she had a great capacity for going to the heart of an issue.
I found her very helpful in the sense that she could sense what you were getting at very quickly, sort of like a good editor helping somebody write something. At least with me, she could sense what it was. I was fortunate professionally in Colombo that I had been kind of bumping along and the job was not terribly exciting. Having to write about tea and all and rubber….We didn’t have a great deal of interest [back in Washington].
We had a fairly large AID [Agency for International Development] mission. I never quite understood how the AID mission had gotten to be that substantial in Ceylon, but it was a big one.
The first thing was, Miss Willis decided that she wanted to keep the AID mission director kind of at arm’s length — for whatever reasons, I don’t know. She wanted me as her economic officer to be the one that kept in touch with the AID mission and kept her informed as to what they were up to, which was not easy because they were up to all kinds of things. That was the first thing. I had to report to her on what they were doing.
This got me involved with the AID mission director Jack Bennett, who had been a fairly senior guy in the Treasury at one time. I don’t know how he ended up in AID, but I think that was Jack’s retirement post somehow. He and I got along fairly well.
I told him, “Jack, the best thing I can do for you is — you are persuaded that your AID mission is doing good things — let me see as much of it as you possibly can. I’m not a spy, but Miss Willis is asking me questions every day.” So, he arranged for me to go with all of his field officers to every damn thing they were doing, which got me all over the island. I saw all sorts of things, which was fun.
“I was lucky to have worked for her in that I much benefited from exposure to her long experience”
Walter A. Lundy, Consular/Political Officer in Colombo, 1961-1963
LUNDY: There was a remarkable ambassador who arrived in Colombo about the time I was assigned there, Frances Willis. She was the first woman to have made it through the career ladder to an ambassadorship. In retrospect, however, I have mixed feelings about her. She was an extremely hard working and completely dedicated public servant; on the other hand she simply had no idea how to delegate.
She had to see every written word that left the embassy. Such scrutiny reduced the volume and content of the reporting. I had an easier time there than my more senior colleagues who knew what they were doing, while I was very junior and had so much to learn. I was lucky to have worked for her in that I much benefited from exposure to her long experience.
I believe strongly, however, the first rule of management is that the best supervisor is the person who supervises the least. Ambassador Willis’ very cautious management style made life difficult for the deputy chief of mission, embassy section chiefs, and heads of other agencies….
In 1982, Cold War tensions led to growing concerns about Soviet and Cuban influence in Central America. Following the overthrow of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) took power and began supplying Soviet weaponry to Salvadoran guerrillas. Secretary of State Al Haig urged that evidence of this be released to the media; however, the information could not made public because of intelligence sources.
In the midst of this, the Salvadoran Army captured a 19-year-old guerrilla fighter, Orlando Tardencilla, who claimed to have been trained in Cuba. Certain that this was the smoking gun which would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Cuba was meddling in El Salvador, the U.S. flew Tardencilla to Washington for a March 12 press conference. However, Tardencilla quickly recanted his story, claiming he had been tortured. Read more
Rajiv Gandhi, son of India’s long-time Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had no intention of entering politics like the rest of his family, but as heir to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, such a step was almost pre-ordained. Rajiv Gandhi became India’s seventh Prime Minister on October 31, 1984 just hours after his mother was assassinated by two of her own bodyguards. As a member of India’s post-independence generation, Gandhi was viewed hopefully as a modern technocrat who would help transform the populous nation.
However, it was old-school Realpolitik that ultimately proved to be his undoing. India had long supported the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had been fighting for independence from Sri Lanka since its founding in 1976. When the conflict intensified, Rajiv Gandhi sent in the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka in 1987 in the hopes of disarming the LTTE and defusing the violent conflict. This backfired badly, as the LTTE began to resent the presence of Indian troops and the government’s strong-arm tactics. Read more
The despotic reign of Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu caused deplorable living conditions for Romanians and left its most vulnerable citizens – abandoned children — to be literally warehoused. Orphanages were overrun due to Ceauşescu’s policy of making abortions and contraception illegal while also practically forcing women to have at least four or five children. Most could simply not afford to keep their children and orphanages were unable to adequately care for the children placed there. Around 180,000 children lived in inhumane conditions – no heat, poor clothing, little food, and little health care. HIV became rampant due to a misguided belief in blood transfusions and a lack of proper medical care.
After Ceauşescu was deposed and the issue was highlighted on news shows like 20/20 and 60Minutes, thousands of Americans went to the country to adopt. Read more
Despite their education and background, women Foreign Service Officers in the 1950s and 60s faced discrimination and were often treated like second-class citizens. Even in the late 1960s, some ambassadors would object to a woman being posted to their embassies while female FSOs were sometimes expected to act as social secretary to the Ambassador’s wife. Female Foreign Service Officers were asked to resign once they got married, even though there was no written regulation that obliged them to do so. It was only with persistent complaints and a few lawsuits that the system finally began to change in the early 1970s.
To commemorate Women’s History Month, ADST, in conjunction with Executive Women at State, convened a panel March 30, 2015 with four Foreign Service pioneers to share their stories about overcoming challenges to rise to the top, as well as their advice on how to keep moving forward.
Phyllis Oakley was the “’wife of’ for sixteen years,” specifically to FSO Robert Oakley from the moment they wed until 1974. When she resigned from the Service in 1958, “it never occurred to me to challenge the Department on its personnel policies.” She was able to apply for re-entrance to the Foreign Service in 1974 and quickly rose through the ranks of the State Department, beginning in the Bureau for International Organizations. She retired in 1999, having served as the Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research (INR).
Elinor Constable joined the Foreign Service in 1957 and met her future husband in A-100, the orientation class for new FSOs; she was then asked to resign when they married. She refused. She later resigned when they had children, then rejoined the Service “kicking and screaming,” in 1974. She reluctantly joined the Alison Palmer case because “for me to argue that the Department was discriminating against me as an individual was ridiculous.” She served not only as Ambassador to Kenya from 1986 to 1989 but also as the first woman Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Economic Bureau and as Assistant Secretary in OES.
Stephanie Kinney passed the Foreign Service exam in 1971 but was unable to join because of a hiring freeze at USIA. When her husband Doug went through A-100, she took the “Wives Seminar.” She was part of the first generation where for the first time any comment or review of their activities could not be cited in their husbands’ Officer Evaluation Reports. She became an FSO in 1976; she is a former Senior Foreign Service Officer and winner of the Department of State’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Harriman Award for her leadership role in creating the Department’s Family Liaison Office (FLO). She asserts that when advocating for change, it is important to frame the issue as an institutional one to get more buy-in, rather than advocating from a single interest group perspective.
Eileen Malloy (Moderator) joined the Foreign Service in 1978, after the Palmer case had been decided. However, after the Department found out that her husband would not be coming with her immediately, they broke her initial assignment to Jamaica and reassigned her to London, without asking her. As she notes in her ADST history, “There was still very much this kind of paternalistic attitude towards female officers.” She was posted twice in the USSR, the second time as Chief of the Arms Control Implementation Unit. She served as Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 1994-1997, Deputy Assistant Secretary in EUR from 1997-1999, and Consul General in Sydney, Australia from 2001-2004. She is also an ADST Board member. In her remarks, she noted how far the Department has come in tackling such issues and noted that from her perspective the biggest challenge facing the Department with regard to women today is retention.
Asked about what challenges still persist for women today, panelists said that the evaluation process still varied for men and women and noted that it is more important to have a champion at the top, while the gender of that champion is not as crucial. They also advised that it was not necessary for women to act like a man to get ahead, but rather women should be themselves, use their strengths, and do a good job.
You can read the entire
. You can also read more about the lawsuit on sexual discrimination filed by Alison Palmer.
“In my day it was felt that we were not going to make waves”
Lycia Coble Sibilla: The Executive Women at State recently met with HR. We shared statistics on the advancement of women here at the State Department. We learned that from about 1994 to 2014 there were more women here at State in every senior level and mid-level grade. For example in 1994, 24% of the DCMs [Deputy Chiefs of Mission] were women and today 29% are. In 1994 only 10% of women were Chiefs of Mission and today 35% hold top spots at our missions overseas. I am delighted that we will hear the stories on how we achieved some of that success today, and our panelist’s suggestions on how to keep moving forward….
Phyllis Oakley: Well, as Elizabeth Taylor said to her husbands, I won’t keep you long. You know in 1957 and 1958 I did not fight having to resign when my husband and I decided to marry, and both of us studied French. He was sent from Washington to Nice where the State Department used to keep their French school. That was closed needless to say. From Nice he was sent immediately to Khartoum where they spoke English and Arabic. One does kind of wonder about that. I had to resign. I went home to St. Louis to get ready to fly out to see him.
A nice person in personnel did suggest that they would help me arrange a proxy marriage if I wanted to do that. That was their contribution. I declined. It didn’t seem to me marrying Bob in such exotic circumstances and going to Khartoum for our first two years that I was really giving up much of the adventure of the Foreign Service. Our arrangement was that we would always be a partnership.
In those days in the late 50’s nice girls didn’t make waves. All of this brings me to what I see as the greatest difference for women and in women from that period of the 50’s and 60’s and now, and it is today’s women are confident young women who were extremely well educated, and they are not going to take restrictions or discouragement or guff from anyone. In my day it was kind of felt that we were not going to make waves….
The statement was always said to me over and over ad nauseum: “We are just getting two for the price of one.” I cannot tell you how much I hate that saying. But since that time the world has changed, and you really have to realize how drastically it has changed. Vietnam and the protests against the war, civil rights, gays and women’s lib. This society has really transformed itself….
None of the progress that women have made in the State Department or other areas of society would have happened without the threat of lawsuits and bringing the lawsuits that were successful. I don’t know of many societies that have changed as much as we have but the law and the willingness of people to bring those lawsuits was what it was all about.
When I re-entered the Foreign Service in 1974 we were coming back from Beirut, and I generally had support among all of the friends of our age. People who had known me and had seen me in various posts and activities that I had done.
What I did find was that occasionally older men would make remarks close to me so that I could overhear them. Things like “What does she think she is?” “Why is she coming back into the Foreign Service?” and what not. You just learn to ignore it and go on. In general I found most of the people with whom I worked to be extremely helpful and helpful to me because I knew about all of the places we lived and the political situation and various things like that.
When I came back into the Foreign Service and somebody said, “What tags do you want on that telegram?” I said, “What are tags?” I had no idea of the mechanics of a lot of this. Now I think a lot of us sitting here have had our share of small firsts. My first was I was called up to be a staff assistant on the seventh floor [where the Secretary and others have their offices]….It was very much along the military model. The staff aides were generals we called up and these were the promising young people. They wanted to get them exposure on the seventh floor and help groom them and push them up.
In the summer of 1976 because we were celebrating a lot [for the Bicentennial], I was asked to go up on the seventh floor as the staff assistant for Phil Habib….He had headed the political section out in Saigon when my husband was there, and he considered Bob one of his boys.
Well, there I was working on a Sunday morning spreading out his traffic….He looked up at me and he smiled and he said, “Why aren’t you home fixing breakfast for your husband?” Now do you think anybody could get away with that today? But you know, what can I say? I just kind of laughed and went on telling him what he had to do….
What helped in those days for me to work where Bob was, was the disparity in our ranks. Because I had been out for 16 years and he had moved up the ladder and I was lower. It was easier to find me a job. It would have been much more difficult of course if my assignment had come first and then he tried to follow.
I was the first woman spokesman at the State Department. I don’t think any of you would ever think about the fact whether a spokesman for any U.S. Government agency was a man or a woman. It is just not an issue anymore. But I had been the Afghan desk officer. In those days I had been on the McNeil-Lehrer news program on the fifth anniversary of the Soviet invasion. [Secretary of State] George Shultz was on vacation in California. He happened to see it and called me up. Six months later when they needed a spokesman he remembered.
This supports our long-held maxim that what happens to you in the Foreign Service depends on three things: who you know, what you know, and just plain luck. Anyway that was, in a sense, my real breakthrough. A lot of things happened after that. When we got to Islamabad in 1988 and Bob was named Ambassador right after Arnie Raphel was killed, that embassy was the most integrated embassy I have ever seen. The DCM was married to the assistant PAO [Public Affairs Officer]. The budget and fiscal officer was married to the economic officer. And it was just like that throughout and to me it was just a great mark of change.
Is it a perfect system? Do things work perfectly? Of course not. The assignment process has gotten more difficult with security concerns and short tours and the various things like that. It is different but it is still very complicated. So let me just end by saying “You have come a long way, Baby!”
Eileen Malloy: Now we are going to ask Elinor Constable to share her experiences with us.
“They just imposed this discriminatory policy as a kind of a custom”
Elinor Constable: Oh I loved that, and there were some stories in there that I had never heard before. Phyllis and I share a lot of things. My husband succeeded Bob Oakley as Ambassador to Zaire. My husband was DCM at Islamabad. We were both Assistant Secretaries of State together under Tim Wirth so our journey ended up in a lot of the same places. It did start out a little bit differently.
Phyllis said in those days we were taught that we shouldn’t make waves, and you know we could get pushed around. Well, that may have been what we were taught but it wasn’t what I did. Phyllis knows me well enough to know, and I don’t know where it came from but all you had to do was tell me that I couldn’t do something. Don’t every say that to me.
Now I hadn’t even wanted to come into the Foreign Service, which probably helped because I wasn’t nervous about it. It wasn’t going to be my life. I really didn’t care. I wanted to go to Harvard but I didn’t get in because they weren’t taking women in the program I applied to. So I passed my Foreign Service exam and went to my first day of my A-100 course, which in those days was a very long course — I think it was three months. I sat down next to this man. I took one look at him, I am sorry this is true, and fell in love with him at first sight. So career, everything out the window. This is the man for me. It took about a year for him to come around. But then he proposed. Wow, I was just on Cloud Nine.
Well, then personnel called me in and congratulated me, and I was touched. Isn’t that nice of them? Then they said, “When do you plan to resign?” I said, “Actually I don’t.” That is what I said, “I don’t.”
“You what? You have to resign.”
“Well, make me.” This is how it went. “Make me. You gonna hold a gun to my head? You gonna forge my signature? You gonna fire me?” They didn’t, long story short, but what was even more interesting, there was nothing in writing. Because I asked to see the regulation. I asked to see the policy. I asked to see something just out of curiosity. Nothing. They just imposed this discriminatory policy as a kind of a custom.
I like to think what I did changed things for some other women. I know it did for some because a friend of mine got married a short time after that and was not asked to resign. I wonder if it changed things permanently. Who knows? In any case I went on my honeymoon and came back to work and then of course I got pregnant. That was off the road because believe this, there was no maternity leave. Period, for anybody.
So I resigned and went overseas with my husband as a Foreign Service spouse. Our first post was a two-man, or as we would say today, a two-person, post in rural Spain. There were no spouse issues at that post because it was so small. The principal officer’s wife was a friend and a delight and all that. What I did find there was a true epiphany. I hated it. I just hated it. One day I said, OK, you have got three choices sister. You can go home. I could have gone home. Or you can stay and whine, or you can figure out some way to like this place. I decided the third was probably the best approach. That stayed with me for the rest of my life no matter where I was or what the situation was. It is really about the love, the friends the work, and much less about the place. Although the place can be fun.
Then we went to Central America to our first embassy. Oh boy. Then it hit me full in the face. What is the Foreign Service officer’s spouse supposed to do? You are supposed to do what the boss’ wife tells you to do, like the military. Since my husband was a very junior officer, that made me a very junior wife. No way as you can imagine. In a way the first thing that happened to me was a help because it was so outrageous. We had moved to our house without furniture. In those days you took your stuff with you but it took forever to arrive. We had a sofa, a crib for the baby, a bed for the other kid, a bed for us and that is about it. No phone, no car.
A couple of women came to call on me and said, “Congratulations.” I thought what for? Phyllis knows this story. “You have just been elected as Chairwoman of the Tea Committee of the Voluntary Dames of Tegucigalpa”
“Don’t worry. All you have to do is tea for 50 women once a month.”
“What?” It took awhile but finally I persuaded them to let me use their phone. I called the president of the Voluntary Dames of Tegucigalpa. By then I was bilingual in Spanish and I told her in Spanish — and I am afraid I did not use very nice language by the way – that I would not chair her committee and I would not join her organization if this is the way they operated. One of the women said, “You can’t do that.” I said, “I just did.”…
“The State Department wants you back”
Now we had to disarm the Ambassador’s wife. I had a job teaching at the university. I did a lot of other stuff down there too. I loved Honduras. None of the fast stuff except for parties. A lot of parties. Again this is pretty old fashioned, but I didn’t think a diplomat’s wife should take a salary out of a really poor country. So I planned to donate it back. My husband came home one day and he said guess what.” “Uh oh, what?”
“The Ambassador’s wife is interested in the charity that you were going to give your money to.” Oh, lay one on. So I went to call on her. I said, “I have a few thousand dollars here. I know this is small change. I wanted to give it to this charity but you might want to do it in the name of the American Women’s Club.”…After that I was golden….
I came back to Washington and I…discovered that I wanted to go back to work and have a career. And I did. Then in 1968, we were posted to Islamabad. I had to quit. I am sorry, too….I had to quit and go with my husband and three children. I will admit…I did not play well. I got very frustrated. Probably the worst thing I ever did was to leave a party that we were giving before the party and go to night clubs with some guys. I did that.
It was bad and when I came back to Washington in ’71. I told my husband I am not going through that again. I resumed my career. He was a very clever guy. You must know from the Tegucigalpa incident, so he came home one day waving this pink sheet of paper saying, “The State Department wants you back.”
“Well, I don’t want to go back.”…He said, “Well why don’t you come back? You can always quit if you don’t like it.” That was sort of smart of him, actually.
So I did come back. One thing after another. I was a GS-13. I was brought in as an FS-05. I should have been brought in as a 04 but you can’t grieve your terms of employment. I tried to get a job in admin….They needed help anywhere and I liked personnel and budget and management and all that stuff. I volunteered. I could not get a job. Old boy’s network. I applied for the most ridiculous assignments — anything.
So I said, OK, I will go back to economics. So let’s get an economic job. Well, I had to be in the economic cone. I had to be in the economic cone, so OK, fine. I will be in the economic cone, but you have to take the six-month economic course to get into the cone. Now I am on to something. To get into the course, you had to be in the cone. To get into the cone –
The old lions don’t say no to me. I called out all the people who picked people for the course, and I got in. I studied really hard. I was always good at memorizing stuff and handing it back in a test. The Department was always in awe of people who got high grades in that course….It was a killer course. In six months you got the equivalent of a Masters in economics.
I came back to the Department and the rest is sort of history. I had a wonderful time. I had some good bosses and some bad bosses. One of my bosses, by the way was Brad Bishop, the guy who murdered his family. I didn’t have a clue. He was perfectly normal to me. Ever since I have always said to myself you can’t really tell what people are like….
I wanted a tandem assignment. Those were tough to come by but I was able to negotiate a transfer through USAID and had a wonderful time. I loved Pakistan. On that tour I behaved myself because I got to work, which was a privilege. My husband was DCM and I really didn’t want to make waves for him.
I was called back to Washington to take another job in the Economic bureau and was having a fine time when around 1980 or ’79…, a new assistant secretary called me up to his office to offer me another job. I suddenly got very nervous because the Carter administration had a policy that every bureau had to have at least one woman DAS [Deputy Assistant Secretary]. Now this is not smart. I don’t think it was smart then and I don’t think it would be smart now….
So I went into his office and there was a token job in the bureau that a woman had. It is a good job today, but it was token then. I was sure he was going to offer me that. But he didn’t. He offered me the plum job in the economic bureau. Whoa. I will have to get back to you. Does anybody here know Deane Hinton? Legendary guy. Deane reared back in his chair and I will not quote him word for word. But he said, “Elinor, you are a competent woman.” Bunch of curse words. “If you don’t take this job, they are going to shove an incompetent blankety-blank down my throat.” I thought, OK, that is a pretty good way to talk me into taking a job. So I did and had a wonderful time….
I only want to share two quick things about Kenya….I was called Madame Ambassador. I didn’t like the title. I was called Ambassador, and I was the first woman American ambassador in Kenya; there have been a lot since. The navy used to come to Mombasa to use it as a liberty port. I would fly down and take a helicopter out to these aircraft carriers. What a thrill. My father was a naval officer and wasn’t allowed to see this.
Go down the red carpet, tour it and then go down and have lunch with the admiral. I walk into the admiral’s mess and there would be a rose on my plate. Now I still have trouble explaining to people why this is not appropriate. So I had a policy. If there was a rose on my plate I made these guys talk to me. All men, about women in combat. In the 80’s that was a hot issue. If no rose, no argument….They couldn’t argue with me. I was the Ambassador.….
“This was not going to go well if it got framed as a women’s issue”
Stephanie Kinney: I came along in the early 70’s having discovered the Foreign Service by what means, I have no recollection, in a little town in central Florida called Winterhaven. We learned how to write research papers [in high school] by having a really dumb theme, the vocation of my choice….I chose to look into the Foreign Service. My conclusion, which I parroted back some years later, was that and so if you are a young woman who wants to have both a career and a family, it would appear that the Foreign Service is not for you. The only way to rise is to marry a successful officer….
The famous Macomber report in reforms as they were known in 1970 declared something astounding and unusual. Married women would be allowed to take the exam and come into the Foreign Service. My husband and I were both in Cambridge at the time. He had wanted to be a Foreign Service officer since he was 14….
In 1971 I was told by the Board of Examiners that I was the second married woman to have taken the exam and they put up a list. I never knew who the first one was….The wisdom of President Nixon and his concern about hippies in government caused him to put a freeze on hiring. So I accompanied my husband as a spouse on his first tour in Mexico City.
Of course they lifted the freeze on hiring three months after my eligibility on the list ran out. I took it again in ’75 which again was the year of the class action complaint came in on my own and the rest was my career history from there. But that three years as the wife of, had the same galvanizing effect on my as it did on Elinor and Phyllis….
I was told that I was the first diplomatic wife ever to work. I got to work for $5,000 a year as a teacher at the Colegio Mexicano, thanks to the fact that I followed a family rule: When in doubt, go. I had had enough of the parties. One more American Legion group was just not something I cold tolerate. I said I wasn’t going but I was persuaded to go and that is where I met the woman who offered me the job because she thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread….Perhaps that was what gave me a sense of the importance of building institutionally, which is the thought I want you to take away from my undistinguished life history in the State Department….
I looked at my situation and said well he has got to choose between his chosen career and me or I have to choose between him and having a career, or just change the Foreign Service. Of the three at the time, the third seemed like the best option. So that is what I proceeded to do. I got together and found some older women who seemed sympathetic. We formed the research committee on spouses in which we discovered what Elinor already knew, which was in fact there was no statutory basis for disallowing married women, pregnant women, or any other kind of woman not to be in the Foreign Service.
But it was at a time of rising bra burning and feminism and rancor particularly within the Department. It was our considered opinion that this was not going to go well if it got framed as a women’s issue. I suspect Elinor and I have some shared views in this regard. I don’t think that hyphens are appropriate. I don’t think that special interests are appropriate in this institution in foreign policy or in American diplomacy.
The short unscientific survey which we managed to do with the help of friends of officers in the Department and the results were astounding. 33% of the male officers, and that is who they were in those days — this would have been about ’74-’75 — came back and said their next assignment would be influenced by the working status and possibilities of their wives. Well that is not a woman’s problem; that is a management problem. It is an institutional problem…. It is unusual that things go from policy decision to execution in one year. With the foundation in the State Department of the Family Liaison Office [FLO] was an unusual example of such….
Are there more lessons to be learned? Framing the issue correctly. This wasn’t about women; it was about the institution. It wasn’t about me; it was about us, the Foreign Service family. This was an issue that was emerging but it had a broad constituency which when mobilized turned out to be passionate and could be united. Both of those things are crucial. This was coming from inside, and not outside.
In my experience very little has happened in this building that is significant that comes from inside. If it comes from outside it is like building sand castles. They get washed away as soon as the next bunch of short-termers leave and we all know why. Finding senior friends, senior women was not the problem, senior women were not the enemy, in fact many of them were the fix. We found a way of working across the generations.
Timing — both Democrats and Republicans in the late 70’s were worried about families. Aha. It was not going to be the women’s office or anything else. We framed it in terms of the Foreign Service family. To skip forward because time is fleeting it was established in 1978….On June 12, 1980, the United States and Canada agreed reciprocally to allow the family members of U.S. and Canadian government officials stationed in each other’s countries to work, what in 1975 I envisioned as reciprocal work agreements….
The moral of this story is the nature and the condition of this institution depends on you, not anybody else. It is not about your ego, it is about what is good for the institution. I am personally very distressed about what I see as the deterioration of professional diplomacy in our professional diplomatic service….The main point is to build institutionally, and that is what I took away from the creation of FLO [Family Liaison Office] because I knew that if it was just a bunch of tactical fixes and ameliorations it was not going to make a difference.
What we tried to build was an institution that would provide for people who had been disallowed even acknowledgment by the 1972 Declaration on Spouses, which turned women from being dependents into non-persons. And to help people help themselves in the belief that if they had the information and if they had the access to information they could not only solve their own problems they could do best kinds of work. So that is what I spent the rest of my career doing….
So I would encourage you if you have complaints, don’t look at what can’t be done. Do like Elinor; do like Phyllis and think about what you can use at hand, including those with more experience than you to make a difference and move this institution form the 20th century into the 21st.
“I want a system that works for both men and women”
Eileen Malloy: Wonderful. I have been asked to add just a couple of comments, so I am going to rush through this very quickly so we can have time for questions. I have been spending the last 11 years as an inspector, and as I go around the world speaking to entry-level officers and other officers, I quite often hear complaints about what State does or does not do for families to support women in the work place.
What I always remind these people is that this is a continuum. The issue that is troubling you today is so far advanced from those issues that were troubling women when we were first allowed to come in. So for my perspective when I came in in 1978, there was no family support at all. There was no child care at all. No maternity leave, no formal tandem program. As you heard you had to go out and broker it one way or another….
There is the child care at FSI [Foreign Service Institute], which is even more recent. There are formal programs and there is this vibrant discussion on work and life balance so my point to people is your concerns today are perfectly legitimate but it is really helpful if you look back and see what the Department has already done and what the constraints are and that will help you do what Stephanie has done and that is frame it in the most constructive way. That is a really important point.
The other thing I want to mention is the Palmer suit. That was the base line suit that said the Department was discriminating against women across the board, in hiring in assignments, in evaluations, everything. And I was the beneficiary of that. I was a part of the class action suit and I was allowed to change my cone and move from consular work which I actually really adored. I am an operations management specialist into political work because it was my perception at that time that I had no future if I stayed in the consular cone. That only by moving could I get into the types of leadership programs that I wanted. I really supported that. I believed in that lawsuit.
So where we are now is you no longer hear the overt expressions from officers that women are not good enough. I was introduced by my boss in Moscow to a group of my Soviet contacts by a monologue of “the State Department requires us to hire women and we search for the best ones we can and we take what we got and here’s our science officer.” You couldn’t get away with doing that nowadays.
In recent times I was trying to mediate a conflict overseas and the man, the superior said, “Well, you know she really got off to a bad start with me by showing up and telling me she had to go off on maternity leave.” So I said, OK, there are still some out there, but most of them have moved out of the system.
The people who were raised in a different era and really couldn’t adapt, so right now, in my humble opinion, the major challenge for the State Department in terms of women is how do we retain them through the upper grades? How do we keep them when you run into that awful crunch between the desire to hold a family and the responsibility and elderly parents and illness, because we are still losing far too many women form the mid grades up.
We are bringing in more than before but we aren’t holding on to them. So the key in the job for all of you in the room, especially you younger folks, is working really hard to create work-life balance conditions that work for both men and women. I have been so happy to have a male subordinate come to me and say, “I really need to go home on time every Wednesday to coach my kid’s little league.” He feels empowered to do that because the women of the previous generation fought for those rights.
So I don’t want a system that works just for women, I want a system that works for both men and women and only then will we have a healthy work force and have really talented people willing to stay in the Foreign Service. So I am going to shut up and open up the floor for questions.
“Women tend to be called good managers and men are called leaders”
Q: I would just like to start off by saying your talk is real inspirational — every one of you. Some of you have touched on this a little bit so please forgive the redundancy. I am wondering what are some issues you saw during your careers for women who had advanced to your high levels that you continue to see today?
Eileen Malloy: I can tell you right off the bat it is the way people are evaluated. If anybody’s ever worked on a promotion panel and you read the evaluation reports of women and the evaluation reports of men you see a huge difference. Women are evaluated on the bases of where they are right now. What they have already demonstrated, what they have already learned.
Men tend to be evaluated by their potential. Women tend to be called good managers and men are called leaders. Yet of you get down to the specifics they are actually doing exactly the same thing and showing the same traits. So that would by my answer.
Elinor Constable:…I would urge anyone who is working here or works at another agency to simply be mindful and pay attention what is happening. What can I do to support sensible reasonable change? I work with people on performance evaluations quite a lot during my career. I have a couple of tips for people: If a man is writing about a woman for example, I said go through and change all of the pronouns to he and see how it reads. If it sounds OK, it is probably OK.
I don’t think any of you have seen what used to be in reports about women. A friend of mine was described as doing a very good job even though she was “broad in the beam.” Seriously. Hopefully that has stopped.
But there are subtle ways in which these distinctions remain, and I love the idea of thinking about men and women. My policy by the way when I managed a lot of men, I made them go home at close of business. I made them. Their deadlines were opening of business, not close of business. I would stand over them as they packed up their briefcases and walked out the door to go home with their families. If they came in at 5:00 a.m. the next day, I didn’t care but they were going to go home. So I get that idea….
Q: You all have given your personal experiences and I can relate deeply to. But nobody has mentioned political considerations. You mentioned under Jimmy Carter a quota for a DAS and that kind of thing but nobody has mentioned Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, and those factors. Did you have anything to say about that?…
Elinor Constable: I think the middle level qualification is critical. Having a woman or a minority at the top of an organization may or may not make any difference at all, and very often it makes no difference at all. What you have to have is somebody, no matter who they are, in a position to influence the middle level to get a situation where competent women are considered for jobs.
In my own experience I had a terrible time getting my hands on a job. Once I got my hands on it I could do it, but there was nobody except for a certain token effort, and the Carter Administration was very ham-handed about it….
You need to have within the pool that you are considering for any position a woman and a minority. Then go for the best person. But if you don’t make sure that pool always includes some diversity, you are never going to get there because people hire their clones. That is just standard, I don’t know how you would describe it. White guys hire white guys. If they know them, they are comfortable with them. So you have to make sure that the pool is mixed….
“Whatever you are, be you”
Q: Thank you. I really appreciate the comments that have been made. The continuing discussion that goes on seems to be involved right now is whether women can get ahead or if they have to act like men. I would just like your thoughts on that.
Eileen Malloy: Since I entered the workforce, that was in the 1970’s that was a period of time when women thought they had to be more masculine than men. A lot of women were not nurturing or particularly helpful to fellow women in that time period. We now have gone beyond that. In the last ten years or so I have seen a blossoming of women at all levels coming together and making a conscious effort to help other women at all levels,. Since there is only one token job for a female and it is either you or me is no longer there. There are more opportunities.
I think you can be a feminine female, be whatever you want to be as long as you have the leadership skills and technical skills and management skills for whatever your specialty is and a good deal of emotional intelligence that you can succeed. You don’t necessarily have to wear a three-piece striped suit. You can be yourself and still succeed.
Elinor Constable: Amen to that. It is true that when I came into the Foreign Service in the 50’s and then on through there was this notion about women acting like men. I never bought it and I never did it. I always was me. Now maybe I am like a man, I don’t know, but I was always just me.
Now I have to tell you that very often, I am ashamed to say this but we all do this. We use our character our qualities and who we are and in my case I am a woman and when I was in Kenya I had a very good relationship with the president of Kenya. I didn’t approve of him really. I had to have a good working relationship with it. I used to go into his office and sit next to him and pat him on his knee. Now a man could never do that, but he loved it. He told a couple of senators one time, “We love your ambassador; she is a mother.”
So I think what Eileen said is right on. Be yourself, use your strengths. Don’t pretend to be anything. If you are a tough lady, be a tough lady. If you are a softer person, be a softer person but whatever you are, be you.
Pictured: Event participants with ADST Spring 2015 interns.