Few get the chance to leave their mark as a record holder. Beatrice Bishop Berle certainly did just that. In the mid-1940s, Beatrice Bishop Berle administered the first dose of penicillin in Brazil’s history. Her husband, Adolf Berle, Jr., was the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil from 1945–1946. Spouses of ambassadors play a considerable role in their given host country, whether it be fostering relations amongst government officials or looking out for the well-being of the embassy staff. In this regard, spouses do not necessarily trail their Foreign Service partners (as the moniker “trailing spouse” would suggest), but rather lead and contribute to American diplomatic practice through their formal and informal duties.
Adolf Berle Jr. was an original member of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust.” The “Trust” was a group of policy experts who offered advice and guidance to FDR during his presidency. Adolf Berle Jr. was instrumental in crafting FDR’s First New Deal in 1933. Later in his career, Adolf Berle Jr. was assigned to the State Department as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs. When Adolf Berle Jr. became U.S. Ambassador to Brazil in 1945, Beatrice Bishop Berle used her newfound connections to become an unpaid volunteer at a hospital in Rio de Janeiro. Her experience in the asylum ward meant that she met and knew those Brazilian citizens she would not have met at typical diplomatic events. As a practicing physician in the United States, Beatrice Bishop Berle offered vital assistance to the local ward and learned about parasitic diseases like bilharzia that affected the local community. At the local hospital in Rio, Beatrice made history by administering penicillin for the first time to two patients with pneumonia.