Breaking Protocol: America’s First Female Ambassadors Part 1

Professor Philip Nash tells us the history of America’s First Female Ambassadors, the “Big Six,” and how they carved out their rightful place in history.  He explains how these trailblazers helped pave the way for more gender parity in US foreign relations!

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Philip Nash, Breaking Protocol: America’s First Female Ambassadors, 1933-1964.
“It used to be,” soon-to-be secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright said in 1996, “that the only way a woman could truly make her foreign policy views felt was by marrying a diplomat and then pouring tea on an offending ambassador’s lap.”

This world of US diplomacy excluded women for a variety of misguided reasons: they would let their emotions interfere with the task of diplomacy, they were not up to the deadly risks that could arise overseas, and they would be unable to cultivate the social contacts vital to success in the field. The men of the State Department objected but had to admit women, including the first female ambassadors: Ruth Bryan Owen, Florence “Daisy” Harriman, Perle Mesta, Eugenie Anderson, Clare Boothe Luce, and Frances Willis. These were among the most influential women in US foreign relations in their era.


“Here at last is the long-neglected story of America’s pioneering women diplomats. Breaking Protocol reveals the contributions of six trail-blazers who practiced innovative statecraft in order to surmount all kinds of obstacles―including many posed by their own employer, the US State Department. Philip Nash’s illuminating study offers an invaluable foundation for our understanding of contemporary foreign policy decision-makers.”―Sylvia Bashevkin, author of Women as Foreign Policy Leaders: National Security and Gender Politics in Superpower America

“Diplomacy is the one field of public political life that has been relatively open to women―we need only think of Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, and Madeleine Albright. In Breaking Protocol, Philip Nash reminds us of the history of their achievements with an enduring and enticing record of the much longer, surprising history of female diplomats and their individual efforts to shape American and international politics.”―Glenda Sluga, University of Sydney

“In this highly readable, timely, and well-researched addition to the scholarly research on American diplomacy, Nash engages in a much needed act of “historical recovery” featuring the first six female US Ambassadors, expertly weaving biography with contextual analysis of a slowly evolving US Foreign Service from the 1930s to the 1960s.”―Molly Wood, Wittenberg University

“Breaking Protocol is another important, pioneering book by Philip Nash. This thoroughly researched and gracefully written history of America’s first six female ambassadors provides new insights into diplomatic history, Women’s Studies, and the conduct of American foreign policy over the course of three of the most critical decades (1933–1964) of the twentieth century. Pathbreaking!”―Martin J. Sherwin, Pulitzer Prize winning coauthor (with Kai Bird) of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

“Breaking Protocol is a lively and entertaining read; the depth of the sexism it depicts in the encrusted male world of twentieth century diplomacy is astonishing and revelatory, even when we should be prepared for it. The first women to break the diplomatic glass ceiling are a tough and spirited bunch, well worth resurrecting and remembering!”―Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America

About the Author

Philip Nash is associate professor of history at Penn State Shenango. He is the author of The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Jupiters, 1957–1963, as well as numerous articles and book chapters.

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