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When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth

By Prince Roy

The Ralph J. Bunche Library is the best-kept secret at Main State, at
least among the A-100 crowd. It is a fantastic resource and the Orientation
should not only make sure we know about it, but take us on a quick tour
when our classes bring us to Main State. I went there during my lunch
hour last week for the first time and it blew me away. If you love cultural,
historical or any other kind of material concerning international relations
and country/area studies, you won’t ever want to leave. The China materials
are stacks deep, and though much of it is dated, there is plenty enough
recent stuff to keep me happy for several weeks. There are lots of foreign
language resources too. The staff is super friendly and efficient as well.
They had a library card in my hands not five minutes after I asked for
it. Not only that, if you tell them where your post is, they will give
you a free area map: I’ve got my wall-size map of South Asia all ready
for the hanging.

When I first visited the library I wandered down to the basement into
the diplomatic history section. There are several books there from the
1960s describing life in the State Department. These books were geared
towards persons interested in pursuing a diplomatic career. State has
long had this image as kind of an elitist, WASP-ish Ivy League organization
dominated by white males, and it is a perception State is strongly trying
to change. Our A-100 class had several female senior-level Foreign Service
officers as guest speakers who told us what it was like in the old days
when they first came in. One shocker: up until 1972 a female Foreign Service
officer had to resign her commission and leave the Service once she married.

It is one thing to hear these stories, but it is quite another to see
that kind of cultural mindset in print. I found several gems that I think
illustrate my point very well. The first is a book from 1965 by Harry
Neal entitled Your Career in the Foreign Service. In it, he described
the training content of the A-100 course at that time, and my favorite
was the block called: "Wives: Our Strategic Resource". He listed
the qualities a Foreign Service wife must have, which reminded me of the
saying we had in the Army: if Uncle Sam wanted you to have a wife, he’d
issue you one. He also introduced the recommended career paths for women
seeking State Department employment, namely stenographic, secretarial
and clerk positions.

William Beaulac authored the next book, Career Diplomat, in 1964.
And though he observed that in 1963 7.7% of Foreign Service officers were
women, I quote: "…Opportunities for women? These are not limitless
and won’t be limitless in the foreseeable future. The Foreign Service
exists to do a job for the US and that job can best be done by men. When
women marry they are lost to the Service…" By that last point,
he meant that State invested a large amount of money into the training
of FSOs, all benefits of which were lost to the Service when women left
upon marriage. He failed to mention, of course, that State forced newly-married
female FSOs to leave whether they wanted to or not. As further evidence
of female unsuitability, he noted that a woman diplomat might feel embarrassed
asking a male host country contact out for social dining/drinks after
normal working hours, yet these kinds of settings are when much of a diplomat’s
work gets done. And even if the woman was OK with it, the man might be
uncomfortable because it would make his wife upset.

Robert Finley Delaney contributed another classic in 1961: Your Future
in the Foreign Service
. He recalled with approval the time he overheard
one of his seniors offering advice to a young woman interested in becoming
a diplomat: "Your best chance of becoming an ambassador, young lady,
is to marry a bright Foreign Service officer." A ‘solid observation’
according to Mr. Delaney. From Chapter XII, "Wives Are More Important
Than Husbands", we learn that the social abilities of a wife in entertaining
can make or break a career. The performance of the wife was included in
her husband’s evaluation efficiency report, and could prevent him from
obtaining advancement. Not only was she expected to entertain, but she
was at the beck and call of the ambassador’s wife, and had to ‘volunteer’
for any number of unpaid embassy activities. These included clerical administrative
work, charity and teaching in the host country and cooking/baking for
parties. In effect, the wife had what amounted to a full-time, uncompensated
job.

I don’t know about any of you, but if I found myself transported back
to that era, I don’t think I would recognize what country I was in. And
that’s not even considering the situation of African-Americans and other
minorities. Let’s not even go there.

Prince Roy is a self-described ex-law school inmate now serving as
a US diplomat.

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