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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections

Family Papers of Male Diplomats

Vastly outnumbering the papers of women diplomats are the papers of men who held positions in the foreign service. Included in many of these collections are letters and diaries written by wives or other female relatives who accompanied male diplomats to their foreign posts. The family papers of these men and women not only reflect the life of American families living abroad but also sometimes reveal aspects of American women's status and experiences at home. Much can be gleaned about a person's beliefs and interests from what they choose to observe and write about. A careful reader of diaries and letters often discovers references to the appearance, condition, and rights of women in the country where the writer is stationed, with their consequent direct or implicit comparisons to American women at home.

Martha Dodd and Alfred K. Stern. Circa 1938. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Included in the Bancroft-Bliss Family collection (5,800 items; 1788-1928; bulk 1815-75) are the papers of Elizabeth Davis Bancroft (1803-1886) dating from her boarding school days through both of her marriages, including her second union with historian and diplomat George Bancroft, U.S. minister to England from 1845 to 1849. Elizabeth's observations of the contemporary scene in England provided the source material for Letters from England, 1846-1849 (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1904; DA625.B21), manuscript drafts of which are in the collection. Elizabeth's daughter-in-law, Eleanor Albert Bliss (d. 1874), also became an unofficial ambassador when her husband, Alexander Bliss (Elizabeth's son from her first marriage), became secretary of the U.S. legation at Berlin in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

Permelia Stevens Wadsworth Buckalew accompanied her husband Charles Rollin Buckalew (300 items; 1839-90) to Ecuador when he was appointed U.S. minister to that country in 1859, and her diary contains short entries recording her activities and observations of the country and its people.

The Anson and Edward L. Burlingame Family Papers (550 items; 1810-1936) contain lengthy letters from Anson's wife Jane Cornelia Burlingame (d. 1888) describing for her father and sons the couple's official and private activities in China, where Anson served as U.S. minister from 1862 to 1867, and later in London, Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg, where he was negotiating treaties on behalf of the Chinese government.

Frances Hawks Cameron Burnett (1884-1957) was an author and poet who became more involved than many diplomatic wives in the activities and concerns of her host country Japan. While stationed there with her husband Col. Charles Burnett, the U.S. military attaché, Burnett became active in the Boy Scouts of Japan (Nippon Renmei Shonendan), founded the Japan Humane Society (Nippon Jindo Kai), enjoyed the social life in Tokyo and at the Imperial Court, and promoted better relations between the United States and Japan. Much of her collection (700 items; 1818-1936; bulk 1911-36) is written in Japanese.

The papers of Helen Moore Bristol (1867-1945) document her life, first as an Alabama debutante and later as the wife of naval officer and diplomat Mark L. Bristol (33,000 items; 1882-1939; bulk 1919-39), the U.S. High Commissioner to Turkey. The papers of another diplomatic representative to Turkey, Charles Monroe Dickinson (1,000 items; 1897-1923), contain numerous documents concerning the abduction of Ellen Maria Stone (1846-1927), an American missionary in Macedonia who was carried off by brigands near the Turkish-Bulgarian border in 1901 and was held for ransom for six months.

Detailed descriptions of Italian customs, travels through Europe and the Far East, and the daily routines of life in the foreign service are the topics covered in three volumes of letters (1903-49; bulk 1903-07) written by Mary Reed Edwards (1862-1931), wife of a military attaché, to her mother in Tacoma, Washington.

The papers of jurist and diplomat Philip C. Jessup (120,000 items; 1574-1983; bulk 1925-83) include those of his wife, Lois Walcott Kellogg Jessup (1898-1986), relating to her work for the American Friends Service Committee, the U.S. Children's Bureau (preparing reports on children in Europe during World War II), and the United Nations. Notebooks cover her travels to Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East where she made special efforts to see conditions and observe the activities of women.

Among daughters who accompanied their fathers to diplomatic posts, one of the more controversial was Martha Dodd (1908-1990), daughter of William Edward Dodd (20,000 items; 1900-1940), American ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937. According to some sources, Dodd had an affair with Rudolf Diels, head of the Prussian secret police, before denouncing fascism and becoming the lover of Boris Winogradov, an official at the Soviet embassy in Berlin. After Winogradov was recalled to the Soviet Union, Dodd returned to the United States and published an edited version of her Berlin diary, Through Embassy Eyes (1939), and helped her brother publish their father's diaries. Her own collection (4,900 items; 1898-1990; bulk 1950-90) relates to her Berlin experiences as well as to her exile with her millionaire husband, Alfred Kaufman Stern, to Cuba and Czechoslovakia following their indictment for participation in Soviet espionage in the 1950s.

Harris & Ewing, photographer. View amaryllis show. Washington, D.C., March 28. Among today's visitors at the Amaryllis Show staged by the Department of Agriculture were Senora Felipe A. Espil, left, wife of the Argentine Ambassador, and Jean Wallace, daughter of the Secretary of Agriculture and Mrs. Henry A. Wallace. March 28, 1939. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Joining the papers of American diplomats are the papers (525 items; 1925-94; bulk 1930-49) of writer Courtney Letts Borden de Espil Adams (1899-1995), the American-born wife of Felipe Espil, the Argentine ambassador to the United States. Adams kept a detailed record of the “diplomatic, residential, and official life in Washington” in a series of diaries dating from 1933 to 1953, which she intended for publication. In October 1943, Espil was recalled to Argentina, and the diaries cover the couple's time there and at subsequent posts in Europe. When living in Washington, Adams became good friends with both Mathilde Welles, wife of Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, and Frances Hull, wife of Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Hull and Welles were often at odds over policy, and the long conflict between the two men is documented from the perspective of their wives through conversations Adams reported in her diaries and correspondence she exchanged with the women.

Although not diplomats per se, author Lilian Thomson Mowrer (1889-1990) and her husband Edgar Ansel Mowrer, a syndicated columnist and American editor of the periodical Western World, both wrote and lectured on politics and world affairs, particularly on the diplomatic policies of France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. Their collection (52,500 items; 1910-70; bulk 1940-60) includes Lilian's papers documenting her activities with the Women's Action Committee for Lasting Peace and Women's World Fellowship.

Manuscript Resources Referenced

The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.