Oral History Project

The AAFSW Spouse Oral History Collection is housed at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia.

Established in 1986, the Spouse Oral History Collection continues to interest researchers and journalists. The oral histories recount many of the changes that have taken place in spousal or “wife” roles in the Foreign Service. About 150 spouse histories are available on ADST’s website.

These spouse interviews offer a unique glimpse into the important role wives played in the “old” Foreign Service (prior to the 1970s) and beyond. Lesley Dorman gives an overview of her advocacy in establishing the Family Liaison Office (FLO). Ann LaPorta recalls her role of that of a “three stringed instrument: wife, mother and her professional image.” Judy Ikels talks about her evolving career and work in FLO.

The interviews are also a resource for journalists. To note the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Korean conflict, Kristie Miller, Washington correspondent for the LaSalle, IL, News Tribune, based her column on an interview with Patricia Bartz recorded in 1987 and featured in Jewell Fenzi’s Married to the Foreign Service (now out of print, but sometimes available second-hand at the AAFSW Art & Bookfair. Journalist Miller later noted that the experiences of Foreign Service spouses “add a new perspective to U.S. diplomatic history.”

With the recent marking of 70 years since the end of World War II in Europe, and our evolving relationship with Russia, it is interesting to read the late Alice Pickering’s account of the 50th anniversary celebration in Russia in 1994 while her husband, Thomas Pickering, was heading the U.S. mission in Moscow.

Ms. Pickering recalls the 1993 stand-off between Yeltsin and the Duma. The embassy was right in the path of the tanks that Yeltsin put on the bridge, firing at the Duma. It was decided that it was too dangerous to evacuate people out of the compound. As a result, everyone went for cover. While CNN was reporting and photographing outside, more than 95 people, including children, were holed up in the embassy gym! Read more of this, and other, interviews on the ADST website.

If you would like to share your experiences and perspectives, as part of the spouse oral history program, email oralhistory@aafsw.org.