Diplomatic Wives: The Politics of Domesticity and the “Social Game” in the U.S. Foreign Service, 1905–1941

From The Journal of Women’s History
  • Molly M. Wood


In the first half of the twentieth century, U.S. Foreign Service officers understood that marriage enhanced their diplomatic careers and generally considered their wives to be partners in the Service. In 1914, U.S. consul Francis Keene wrote to his wife Florence, “You and I, as a team, are, I am confidant, unexcelled in the Service.”1 Career diplomat Earl Packer explained that “the wives carry a terrific burden” in the Foreign Service, while another longtime diplomat, Willard Beaulac, declared, “I know of no field in which a wife can be more helpful.”2 Meanwhile, an outside observer of the U.S. Foreign Service in the 1930s explained that “the wife may serve as a go-between for her husband” by taking part in social interactions with other diplomats and representatives from the host country.3 At the same time, many American Foreign Service wives also spoke explicitly about their “careers” in the Foreign Service, and the U.S. State Department initiated changes that reflected the Department’s dependence on “the tradition of husband and wife teams and of wives’ participation in the representational activities of a post.”4 Specifically, the 1924 Rogers Act, which was intended to reform and professionalize the Foreign Service, resulted in administrative changes, such as allowances for rent and entertaining, that directly reflected the growing reliance on the presence of American wives overseas. Furthermore, the new Foreign Service Personnel Board, formed by the Rogers Act to evaluate each Foreign Service officer’s eligibility for promotion, explicitly discussed wives’ strengths and weaknesses when assessing each officer’s merits, noting in particular the success of officers who were “ably seconded” or “ably assisted” by their wives.5


Host Country Military Family Foreign Relation Young Wife American Minister 
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© Organization of American Historians 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Molly M. Wood

There are no affiliations available

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