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.


Married to the Foreign Service

Back to Other Publications

Married to the Foreign Service: An Oral History of the American Diplomatic Spouse

“Every young person, male or female, who is considering joining the Foreign Service should read this book.”
Lawrence Eagleburger, former Secretary of State

Until the 1970s, the spouses, virtually all of them female, of U.S. diplomats sent abroad were traditionally regarded as unpaid employees. Expected to perform countless social duties – and often enduring considerable hardship and even peril in the course of serving husband and nation – spouses made significant contributions to foreign relations. Yet for all their efforts, they received scant if any recognition. Spurred by the women’s movement, these “unofficial diplomats” have improved their status dramatically while continuing to fight for their roles to be fully acknowledged as paid positions within the diplomatic corps. Married to the Foreign Service is a compelling account of spirited and courageous women, a history that for the first time systematically documents their story and provides a rare glimpse into the social and personal side of foreign policy.

Drawing on 170 interviews with the wives of U.S. diplomats, oral historian Jewell Fenzi and writer Carl L. Nelson weave an engrossing narrative spanning nine decades of diplomatic history. Here, in their own words, the interviewees offer candid and revealing testimony about the lives and roles of Foreign Service spouses. Some of their stories are dramatic – accounts of living in Hitler’s Berlin or of fleeing political turmoil in the Middle East. Some of their stories come from well-known figures – Julia Child, the “French Chef,” or Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, a Europe-based broadcaster for Edward R. Murrow during World War II. But whether prominent or not so well known, these voices together produce an invaluable chronicle of twentieth-century American foreign policy from a woman’s perspective. Complemented by 24 photographs and an informative preface by Lewis L. Gould of the University of Texas, Married to the Foreign Service offers readers a missing piece of diplomatic history.