Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.


Abroad for Her Country

Back to Diplomats and Diplomacy

Abroad for Her Country: Tales of a Pioneer Woman Ambassador in the U.S. Foreign Service

“A serious and charming autobiography of a pioneer woman diplomat.”

DONNA E. SHALALA, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services

Abroad for Her Country: Tales of a Pioneer Woman Ambassador in the U.S. Foreign Service, published by the University of Notre Dame Press, is the 33rd volume in the ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy Series. It is the life story of Jean Wilkowski, only the fourth female career diplomat to follow Frances Willis as a U.S. ambassador.

Sent first as a lowly vice consul to the Caribbean during World War II, when the Department of State was “taking in even 4-Fs and women,” Wilkowski moved on to more dangerous and demanding assignments in Latin America and Europe, becoming the first woman to serve as deputy chief of mission and acting ambassador in the male-dominated Latin America of the late 1960s. In 1972 she became the first woman appointed U.S. ambassador to an African nation — Zambia.

As a diplomat, Wilkowski lived through a revolution in Bogotá, attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and the “Soccer War” between El Salvador and Honduras, when she called in U.S. humanitarian aid for 50,000 displaced persons. For much of her career, she specialized in protecting and promoting U.S. trade and investment interests at such posts as Paris, Milan, Rome, Santiago, and Geneva. As chief of mission in Lusaka, Zambia, her reports and analyses on the wars of liberation in southern Africa helped set the stage for a major change in U.S. policy toward the region.

As U.S. coordinator for the 1979 United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development in Vienna, she accompanied the U.S. delegation, headed by Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, on a fact-finding mission to China. In 1982, the Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy published, as a case study in conference diplomacy, her monograph analyzing the events and issues up to and including the showdown in Vienna.

After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1980, with 36 years of service, Jean Wilkowski became a corporate director with interests in Third World development. She has received six honorary degrees and was the only woman to receive the DACOR Foreign Service Cup.