Women in Diplomacy

FY 2007 Financial Report
Bureau of Resource Management
November 2007

Read Footnote 1[see note *]

Ever since women were permitted to join the U.S. diplomatic corps in 1922, they have slowly but surely made their way to the highest leadership positions in the State Department. In 1933, Ruth Bryan Owen was appointed as the first female chief of mission as head of the U.S. embassy for Denmark and Iceland. The first woman appointed chief of mission at the ambassador level, Helen Eugenie Moore Anderson, was named ambassador to Denmark in 1949.

In the first 42 years following Ruth Owen's appointment as chief of mission (1933-1976), the number of female appointments as chief of mission or assistant secretaries of State stayed well within the single digits. The Ford administration broke this barrier, appointing seven female chiefs of mission and three women to senior positions. With the Carter administration, rapid progress began: 18 women were made chiefs of mission and 10 were appointed to other senior positions. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush continued the trend, with 33 and 37 female appointments, respectively. The Clinton administration made a larger leap, appointing 116 women to the senior-most diplomatic posts. In his first term, President George W. Bush named 69 women to the highest diplomatic posts.

Since 2001, several women have been named ambassadors to Arab countries. Maureen Quinn was ambassador to Qatar from 2001 to 2004. During the same period, Marcelle Wahba was ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and was succeeded by Michelle Sison, who had been the deputy chief of mission in Pakistan from 2000 to 2002. In 2003, Margaret Scobey was appointed ambassador to Syria. The rapid gains of the past decade are the culmination of over 70 years of incremental advances for women in U.S. diplomacy, and position women for new breakthroughs in leadership in the months and years ahead.


Firsts for Female Diplomats
1922 First woman admitted to the U.S. Foreign Service: Lucile Atcherson (FSO).Read Table Footnote 11
1933 First female chief of mission at the minister rank: Ruth Bryan Owen, Denmark and Iceland.
1949 First woman chief of mission at the ambassador rank: Helen Eugenie Moore Anderson, Denmark.
1953 First female career diplomat chief of mission: Frances Willis (FSO), Switzerland. She was the third woman to be admitted to the Foreign Service.
1961 First female chief of mission outside of Europe and first to South Asia: Frances Willis (FSO), Ceylon.
1962 First woman to attain the rank of career ambassador: Frances Willis (FSO).
1965 First female African-American ambassador: Patricia Harris, Luxembourg.
1969 First female ambassador to a Caribbean country: Eileen Roberts Donovan (FSO), Barbados.
1971 First woman appointed to an international organization: Betty Dillon, representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
1972 First female ambassador to an African country: Jean Wilkowski (FSO), Zambia.
1973 First female assistant secretary of State: Carol Laise Bunker (FSO), Public Affairs.
1975 First female ambassador to a Pacific island nation: Mary Olmsted (FSO), Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
1977 First female Hispanic-American ambassador and first female ambassador to a Central American country: Mari-Luci Jarimillo, Honduras.
1977 First female Asian-American assistant secretary of State: Patsy Takemoto Mink, Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
1977 First female under secretary of State: Lucy Benson, Security Assistance, Science and Technology.
1978 First female ambassador to a South American country: Nancy Ostrander (FSO), Suriname.
1979 First female ambassador to an Asian country: Patricia Byrne (FSO), Burma.
1981 First female U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations: Jeane Kirkpatrick. In 1993, Madeleine Albright became the second woman appointed as U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N.
1985 First woman to head a geographic bureau: Rozanne Ridgway (FSO), Assistant Secretary for European and Canadian Affairs.
1988 First female ambassador to a Middle Eastern country: April Catherine Glaspie (FSO), Iraq.
1994 First female Asian-American ambassador: March Fong Eu, Micronesia.
1997 First female Secretary of State: Madeleine Albright.
2005 First female African-American Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice.

1 (FSO) Foreign Service officer. All others are non-career, political appointees. (back to text)


* This article and the accompanying chart are excerpted from Ann Wright's article, "Breaking Through Diplomacy's Glass Ceiling," published in the October 2005 issue of Foreign Service Journal. The complete article can be found at the American Foreign Service Association's website at www.afsa.org. (back to text)


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