The Early Years: In 1960, the ripples of societal changes to come in that tumultuous decade, began to seep into the quiet marble corridors of the white male bastion which was the Department of State at that time. To the horror of senior wives of some officials, some wives of junior officers even urged the creation of an organization which might be useful to families. The Association of American Foreign Service Women (AAFSW) was founded in March of 1961. June Byrne Spencer, a State Department secretary led the effort and served as the new association’s first president. It held monthly meetings with speakers in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms in the Department of State, providing the wives with information and with social contacts in Washington. Their annual Book Fair (now the Art and Book Fair) held in the Department has raised hundreds of thousands of funds for college scholarships for Foreign Service Students.
The FORUM Report: After a dozen years, frustration over many family issues began to boil over. In 1976, an AAFSW survey, edited into the truly seminal “Forum Report on the Concerns of Foreign Service Spouses and Families,” identified the salient ones. What was the role of the Foreign Service wife? How could she deploy her education in the workforce in a life of long-term mobility? If divorced, how could she survive, lacking current work history with scant working years to create a pension, lacking even the coverage of Social Security at that time?
Lobbying and Advocacy: The next step, again to the dismay of the older generation, was to register as a lobbying organization to advocate in Congress for addressing the needs of Foreign Service wives legislatively. Through advocacy within the State Department and in Congress, we established the Family Liaison Office, and actively supported the establishment of the Overseas Briefing Center (also known as the “OBC”) as well as the creation of the foreign Service Youth Foundation (FSYF) with its special group for teens, “Around the World in a Lifetime” (AWAL).
AAFSW Services and Activities: We staff a housing referral office in the State Department, operate a bookstore and host periodic speakers at programs in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the Department of State. AAFSW was the original source of many of the publications now commonly updated and found in the toolkits of mobile families. Through our ability to lobby Congress independently, we have led the legislative fight for the rights of Foreign Service spouses.
AAFSW also supports outreach and charities. Money is provided for scholarships for Foreign Service youth, loans for adult family members continuing education and for awards for outstanding volunteer contributions abroad. We also support local Washington D.C. charities that focus on the improvement of family concern.
AAFSW – Historical Details: For a more detailed look at the history of the AAFSW, two sources might be of interest. In 1990, two AAFSW past presidents, Lesley Dorman and Patty Ryan, wrote a history of the first 30 years of the AAFSW (1960 to 1990) which is entitled “AAFSW-30 Years of Accomplishment.” The second source is a speech given by then AAFSW President Mette Beecroft on December 14, 1999 as part of the Millennium Celebration. The speech was entitled “A Century of Women in the Foreign Service.” It was delivered to an audience of more than 200 people which included the AAFSW Founder and first president, June Byrne Spencer. She wrote to express her great enthusiasm for the speech and the accomplishments which it described. The speech is also available on line.
COX Foundation and the FSHub.org: Thanks to a Cox Foundation grant, the AAFSW created the FSHub in 2016. FSHub.org is a comprehensive searchable gateway to Foreign Service resources, including official, non-profit and independent sources and social media groups.