Diplomacy and Gossip: Information Gathering in the US Foreign Service, 1900–1940



In 1932, Elizabeth Cabot accompanied her American diplomat husband to a new post in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Cabot remembered that when they arrived, the American ambassador explicitly told her that he expected her to be “useful” to him by “linking and connecting with Brazilians.” He said he wanted her to “get out of the Embassy,” “join clubs,” “meet people,” and “take a few trips around.”1 Following the ambassador’s orders, Elizabeth Cabot prowled the beaches near Rio where, as she recalled many years later, she “met people and got the diplomatic news… [and] the gossip of the city and the gossip of politics.”2 As Cabot remembered, when she was in Rio de Janeiro, “I had to go to market. I had to move around…it made you link up with people.”3 Meeting new people, “linking up” with them, was an integral part of American official representation all over the world. In order for Foreign Service officers—and their wives—to do their jobs effectively, they had to be able to extract the news, the local “gossip,” from those around them, and this could only be accomplished with face-to-face interactions, usually outside of the official embassy setting. The diplomatic corps as well as US State Department officials considered this kind of informal information gathering parallel to, but no less crucial than, formal and officially sanctioned diplomatic negotiations.


Information Gathering Oral History Merit System Political Appointee Special Emissary 
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© Kathleen A. Feeley and Jennifer Frost 2014

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