The National Museum of American Diplomacy (NMAD) is celebrating women in diplomacy who have blazed trails, negotiated peace, served alongside their partners, strengthened diplomatic relations, survived dangers, and opened doors for the sharing of cultures and ideas.
Discover some of these dedicated women who have made vital contributions to our nation, but whose stories are not well known.
Breaking Ground: Lucile Atcherson
In 1921, Lucile Atcherson of Ohio applied to take the diplomatic entrance examination. This was an audacious move as there were no female diplomatic officers at the time.
Invoking their newly won right to vote, a group of women who supported her quest to become a diplomat wrote a letter to President Harding, imploring him to support Lucile’s Atcherson’s application.
Eugenie Anderson: People’s Diplomacy
Eugenie Anderson, America’s first female ambassador, was a pioneering practitioner of people-to-people diplomacy, which she called “people’s diplomacy.” As U.S. Ambassador to Denmark from 1949 to 1953 and U.S. Minister to Bulgaria from 1962 to 1964, Anderson engaged with the public to promote trade and strengthen economic ties.
Kate Koob: Courage and Composure
In July 1979 Kate Koob arrived as a Foreign Service Officer in Iran — a country in the throes of a massive political and social revolution. When the embassy was captured that November, Koob would be held hostage for 444 days.
Claudia Anyaso: Connecting People
As a member of both the U.S. Department of State’s Civil Service and Foreign Service, Claudia Anyaso connected people across the globe as a public diplomacy officer and expert on exchange programs for over 40 years. These connections not only increased the diversity of program participants, but also assisted greatly in breaking down barriers to international mutual understanding.
Ambassador Jean Wilkowski
Throughout her many years of diplomatic service, Ambassador Jean Wilkowski demonstrated leadership, vision, and courage, whether serving in a temporary position that opened opportunities for women during World War II, to being at the highest levels of American diplomatic representation in Central America and Africa. Her career is an inspiring story.
A High Honor: Secretaries of State
Our nation’s top diplomat is the Secretary of State – the person charged with implementing the President’s foreign policy, strengthening diplomatic relations around the globe, and managing a large global workforce. From Thomas Jefferson to Antony Blinken today, the United States has had seventy Secretaries of State. Only three of them have been women: Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009), and Hillary Clinton (2009-2013).
Foreign Service Officer Eileen Malloy was one of the few female diplomats working on arms control issues in the late 1980s. As chief of the arms control unit at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, she travelled to Kazakhstan in 1990 to observe the destruction of some of the last intermediate-range nuclear missiles that were covered by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) of 1987.
Ruth Kurzbauer cultivated new relationships in China in the 1980s and early 1990s when official diplomatic relations were still emerging. Her cultural curiosity and enthusiasm opened doors and built trust among her Chinese counterparts and local citizens, paving the way for diplomats who followed her.
Sylvia Blake is a daughter, sister, wife, and mother of Foreign Service Officers who also served as U.S. ambassadors. She is the matriarch of a family dedicated to public service and a woman who has her own legacy as a vital member of a Foreign Service family.
In the late 1960s, Foreign Service Officer Lois Roth headed the Iran-American Society in Tehran – an active and flourishing hub of cultural arts, English language learning, and people-to-people outreach. A Department of State article highlighted Lois as somewhat of a novelty: “How does she, a career woman in the Foreign Service, find the role of a female representative of the United States?”
Erica Keen Thomas
When ESTH Counselor Erica Keen Thomas took over the Embassy Beijing air monitoring project in 2010, she quickly recognized its potential for expanded reach, greater global impact, and increased public awareness. For her efforts to collect and publicly share data revealing dangerous air pollution levels in Chinese cities, increasing public awareness of the health risks of pollution, and influencing the Chinese government to confront the issue, Erica Keen Thomas was honored by the Partnership for Public Service as a 2013 Finalist for a Service to America Award.