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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections

Women Diplomats

Bain News Service, publisher. Mrs. B. Harriman (Florence Jaffray Hurst "Daisy" Harriman). Circa 1912. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Fifty years before Jeanne S. Mintz took part in the Israel-Egypt peace negotiations, Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen Rohde became the first American woman appointed to a major diplomatic post when she was named minister to Denmark in 1933, a period in her life that is reflected in letters she exchanged with diplomat Laurence A. Steinhardt (42,500 items; 1929-50).

Four years later Florence Jaffray Hurst Harriman (1870-1967) became the second woman to join this elite club. Her papers (9,000 items; 1912-50) relate primarily to her service as U.S. minister to Norway (1937-41) and her subsequent activities in world peace organizations. When Franklin D. Roosevelt posted her to Norway, he had not anticipated Germany's invasion of that country, but Harriman, an early suffragist, displayed great courage during this dangerous period. She negotiated the release of an American ship captured by the Germans, accompanied the Norwegian government into exile in Sweden, and arranged for the evacuation of American citizens. In 1998, Harriman's granddaughter donated additional papers covering Harriman's work in the Woodrow Wilson presidential campaign and her role as cofounder of the Woman's National Democratic Club. Also of interest is Harriman's correspondence with World War I general John J. Pershing and Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo, with whom she had close relationships.

Mrs. Luce becomes ambassador. 1953. Clare Boothe Luce being sworn in as Ambassador to Italy by Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson (right) as Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (center) looks on. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

From 1953 through 1956, Clare Boothe Luce (see Congressional Collections), served as U.S. ambassador to Italy under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Patricia Harris (1924-1985) U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg (see Education).

Joining Harris in breaking the State Department's racial barriers were economist and diplomat Mabel M. Smythe (b. 1918) and her husband, sociologist and diplomat Hugh H. Smythe, whose papers (34,000 items; 1921-94) document their long careers in foreign service and their efforts to promote greater appreciation throughout the world for cultural, racial, and gender differences. Included are materials on Mabel's work in the 1950s as a research director for the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; her memberships in the 1960s on the U.S. Advisory Commission on International Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and various United Nations commissions; her concurrent ambassadorships to Cameroon (1977-80) and Equatorial Guinea (1979-80), and her duties as deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the early 1980s. Throughout her life, Smythe held numerous teaching positions in economics and African Studies both in the United States and Japan, and she was a prolific writer and advocate for issues relating to Africa, multiculturalism, African American civil rights, women's issues, and the improvement of health and economic conditions in the United States.

Another woman diplomat whose papers have come to the Library is Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman (1920-1997), who was involved in national and international politics and diplomacy since the opening days of World War II. Her large collection of papers (501,650 items; 1940-97) covers all aspects of her extraordinary life, with the bulk of the material documenting her civic and political activities during her last twenty years. During this period, she became a leading figure in the Democratic Party, served on the board of directors of the Commission on Presidential Debates (1987-93), was chair and cofounder of the major fund-raising committees “Democrats for the 80s” and “Democrats for the 90s,” and was national cochair of the successful Clinton-Gore presidential campaign in 1992. The following year, President William Jefferson Clinton appointed her ambassador to France. Her papers reflect to a lesser degree her three marriages —to Prime Minister Winston Churchill's son, Randolph Churchill, Broadway agent and producer Leland Hayward, and businessman and statesman W. Averell Harriman—and the various love affairs and liaisons with powerful men that had brought her so much press attention during her lifetime and spurred interest in several biographies and a made-for-television movie after her death.

Michael Geissinger, photographer. Professor Madeleine Albright named foreign policy adivser for Michael Dukakis' campaign at her Georgetown home. 1988. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In addition, Madeleine Korbel Albright (b. 1937), the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state, 1997-2001, donated her papers to the Manuscript Division in 2014. Prior to that historic appointment by President Bill Clinton, Albright had served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, 1993-1997, and years earlier as a member of the National Security Council, 1977-1981, under President Jimmy Carter. In between these Democratic administrations, Albright held positions at the Woodrow Wilson Center and Georgetown University and advised the Democratic Party and its presidential candidates on foreign policy issues. Albright's papers (81,000 items and 124 digital files; 1925-2015; bulk 1961-2001) include correspondence, speeches, writings, research notes, briefing books, teaching files, subject files, clippings, printed matter, and other files chiefly pertaining to her political activities in the Edmund S. Muskie presidential campaign and to her service as Democratic Party foreign policy advisor in the campaigns of Walter F. Mondale and Michael S. Dukakis. This collection is not yet open for research use, but a finding aid is available.

Although not a diplomat per se, Mary Vance Trent (1914-1998) was one of the first women foreign service officers in the United States. She joined the State Department in 1944 and was a member of the American delegation to the First General Assembly of the United Nations in London. In 1945, Trent took the examination to become a foreign service officer and was one of just five women who received appointments the following year. (In 1922, Lucile Atcherson had become the first woman to be named to the post of foreign service officer in the State Department, but only a handful of other women were appointed between 1922 and 1930, and no woman had received the post from 1930 until after World War II, when Trent and four others were appointed.)

Following her appointment, Trent served in Oslo, Prague, Paris, Washington, and Jakarta. She was the political officer in Jakarta from 1957 to 1958 and again in the mid-1960s, during a critical time in that country's history when President Achmed Soekarno was forced from power during an anti-Communist uprising and replaced by General Soeharto, events that were of great interest to the United States, which subsequently poured millions of dollars of foreign aid into the country. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she held positions in Wellington and Saipan, serving in the latter as the political advisor in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Micronesia). Trent was the sole United States political representative in the region, and her expertise was so highly regarded that after her mandatory retirement in August 1974, she was rehired two months later to direct the Micronesian Status Negotiations and work with the Department of the Interior in developing a plan of self-government for the islands.

Trent's papers (3,500 items; 1914-1997; bulk 1959-1976) document various aspects of her career, particularly her assignments in Indonesia and Micronesia. As reflected in her correspondence and reports, Trent exhibited a keen interest in the status of women in the countries she visited. Included is a draft manuscript for “Iron Butterflies,” an unpublished account about the women of Indonesia. Printed matter and other files concern the emerging women's movement in that country. While an instructor at the Foreign Service Institute in 1962-1964, Trent created the State Department's “wives training course,” which is documented by several folders of papers as well as by a 16mm film taken during one of the classes. Family papers also form part of the collection, most notably several hundred letters Trent wrote from 1965 through 1974 to her sister Madeline Trent, the women's page editor of the Christian Science Monitor, in which she discusses her work, religious faith, women's rights, and other interests and activities. Also of interest to women's historians are subject files reflecting Trent's lifelong interest in the Girl Scouts.

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.