Women in Government and Politics

Stephen Richard Kerbs Exhibit Area

Women Diplomats

Cynthia P. Schneider

Cynthia P. Schneider, a native of Pennsylvania, studied Fine Arts at Harvard University where she received a Bachelor’s and a doctorate. She was the 61st U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands (1998-2001). As ambassador, Schneider led several key initiatives in the fields of biotechnology, education, diplomacy and culture. She organized an international conference on biotechnology at The Hague in 2000. The Millennium Project was created by Schneider in conjunction with the White House Millennium Program, which invited Dutch high school students to gather oral histories of American veterans and Dutch survivors of World War II. Operating with a strong belief in the impact of art and culture on diplomacy, Schneider launched several cultural initiatives, including the annual North Sea Jazz Festival Jam Session hosted by the U.S. Embassy. She also assembled a museum-quality collection of American art at the embassy residence under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State Art-in-Embassies program.  Prior to becoming ambassador, Schneider taught art history at Georgetown University.

I brought something new to the ambassadorship in the Netherlandsmy emphasis on culture as a tool for diplomacy…I think culture diplomacy should be integrated into foreign policynot subsumed by, integrated into. I tried to show how valuable hosting cultural events is in a sense appropriating American performers, writers, musicians and actors when they come to Europe and working to show what is American about what they do. (Georgetown Magazine, Winter 2002)

Winifred Weislogel (1927-2014)

Born in New Jersey, Weislogel earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College in 1949 and a Master of Arts from Otago University in New Zealand in 1951. From 1951 to 1956 she worked at the Institute of International Education, eventually becoming head of its Fulbright Division. In an era when it was still rare for college-educated women to develop a career beyond that of office assistant, Weislogel was able to use her early secretarial experience at the Council on Foreign Relations in order to get a “foot in the door” in the field of diplomacy, her primary interest. Weislogel joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1956. Over the next seventeen years, assignments took her to cities around the world including Geneva; Tripoli; Benghazi; Tangier where she studied Arabic and was the first woman in the U.S. Foreign Service to be offered language training; Rabat; and Africa where she was Deputy Chief of Mission in Lome, Togo from 1970 to 1973. Between 1973 and 1977, Weislogel served at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., first as Libyan/Algerian Desk Officer and then as Director of North African Affairs. In 1977 she worked in the Office of the Inspector General; and in 1980 became Deputy Director of the Office of International Science Cooperation in the Bureau of Oceans, Environmental, and Scientific Affairs. Weislogel retired in 1983. Weislogel’s papers consist of correspondence to her parents replete with rich descriptions of her experiences abroad while serving in the U.S. Foreign Service. The transcript of an interview of Weislogel on her career in the U.S. Foreign Service is available at the website Frontline Diplomacy.

…there’s a howling gale out with thunder, lightning and a bit of sleet. I understand Tripoli is no better – end of Jan til end of Feb is the bad season. We’ve had rain every day since my arrival here…Often the rain lasts for 15 minutes – then the sun shines brilliantly. But it changes from one breath to the next. And when it rains it comes down in solid masses. The streets become flooded…Benghazi is really quite pleasant tho as a city it cannot compare with Tripoli. The souk (local market) in Tripoli is much larger and varied with some fine handicrafts. Here there is little of interest in that line at the souk. There are over 800 Americans resident in Benghazi, the result of the oil company influx. The dining rooms and bars of the leading hotels remind one of gold rush boomtowns, with hairy types in from the desert for a rip roaring time…

Spouses in Diplomacy

Aimee Ernesta Drinker (Bullitt) Barlow

Aimee Ernesta Drinker [Bullitt] Barlow (1892-1981) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Aimee Ernesta Beaux, sister of American portrait artist Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942); and of Henry Sturgis Drinker. She was also the sister of the poet and writer Catherine Drinker Bowen (1897-1973). Barlow's first marriage in 1916 was to William C. Bullitt (1891-1967), who was the first U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and co-authored a book with Sigmund Freud. In 1923, Barlow divorced Bullitt and in 1928 married composer Samuel L. M. Barlow II. Barlow was a traveler, writer, and artist. She kept extensive diaries of her travels in Europe (including Yugoslavia); South America; Tunisia; and Asia (including Cambodia, India, and Pakistan). Of note are diaries written during travel with Bullitt in Germany and Austria in the midst of World War I in 1916. These provide rare first-hand accounts of war-time Germany and were eventually published as An Uncensored Diary from the Central Empires (1917). During World War II, Barlow delivered weekly patriotic broadcasts on NBC Radio as "Commando Mary." The programs were aimed at encouraging women to sign up for war work while attempting to assure husbands that their independent wives would still be available to keep house after the war. Barlow’s papers include an almost complete run of unpublished mimeographed scripts of the programs from 1942 to 1945. (Ernesta Drinker Barlow Papers, GTM.081118)

  • Photograph of Ernesta Drinker Barlow. Undated. (Ernesta Drinker Barlow Papers, GTM.081118) (Reproduced from original)
  • Ernesta Drinker Barlow. Radio transcript for “Commando Mary,” broadcast on August 2, 1942, addressing the women of the Volunteer Office of National Defense in Caledonia, Michigan, who gathered news from their town to share with hometown enlisted men serving abroad. (Ernesta Drinker Barlow Papers, GTM.081118, 3:2.1; pp.1-2 of 11)

Cynthia Helms

Cynthia Helms crosses both categories as ambassador’s wife and intrepid woman traveler in the Middle East. She was born and educated in England. During World War II, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS). From 1969 to 1973, Helms worked for Radio Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., later becoming a member of American Women in Radio and Television. She was the co-founder of Concern Inc., an organization involved with environmental issues. From 1973 to 1976, Helms was stationed in Iran with her husband Richard M. Helms who was U.S. ambassador. During that time, she attended Tehran University and the Imperial College of Islamic Philosophy and served on the board of directors for Damavand College. Helms’ book An Ambassador's Wife in Iran (1981) recounts her experiences not merely in her official capacity at the U.S. embassy, but also as an observant traveler throughout Iran.

…I decided that I would try to convey some of my experiences in the hope that they would bring a greater familiarity with a part of the world which seems so often in the newspapers or on television. It is rare to find two people who agree on anything about Iran; but as an American friend said to me, “Once you’ve lived in Iran, you’re never quite the same again.” I have written this book, not as a scholar, but as a “roving stranger.” (An Ambassador’s Wife in Iran, p.xi).

Helms also collected Persian children’s stories, many of which she published in Favourite Stories from Persia (1982).

  • Lady Bird Johnson. Typed letter signed, dated April 27, 1981, to Cynthia Helms regarding receipt of the latter’s book An Ambassador’s Wife in Iran. (Cynthia Helms Papers, GTM.Gamms426, 1:10)

  • Cynthia Helms. An Ambassador’s Wife in Iran (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1981). (Cynthia Helms Papers, GTM.Gamms426, 2:26; MI-4481

Gladys Hinckley Werlich

Gladys Hinckley Werlich (1891-1976), a native of Washington, D.C., was the daughter of portrait artist Robert Hinckley and Eleanora O’Donnell Hinckley. She made her Washington debut in 1909 and in 1923 married McCeney Werlich, the European representative of American Locomotive Company. When her husband joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1925, Gladys Werlich accompanied him on travels through various diplomatic posts including Costa Rica, Latvia, Paris, and Poland. After her husband’s death, Werlich continued to travel extensively, until 1972, keeping detailed journals on her trips to Africa, China, Egypt, Europe, Japan and Russia.

  • Journal entry for visit to Hong Kong, August 1963. Includes color postcard of Hong Kong Harbor and the Kowloon peninsula with the Hong Kong central business district in the foreground. (Hinckley-Werlich Family Papers, 12:6)
  • Printed travel brochure for Middle East, 1966. (Hinckley-Werlich Family Papers, 12:3)

Women Who Influence Government

Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), travel writer, archaeologist, explorer, and ex officio diplomat, was born in Durham, England. After graduation from Oxford University, Bell, at the age of twenty-three, soon gave up on marriage prospecting to accompany an aunt and uncle to Persia, the latter having been appointed British envoy to the Shah. There, Bell met and fell in love with Henry Cadogan, a young diplomat, whom she might have married had it not been for her father’s objection.

From 1898 to 1905, Bell traveled widely and intensively: twice circling the globe, mountain climbing in Switzerland, and visiting India. Already facile in languages including French, German, Italian, Farsi and Turkish, she learned Arabic in Jerusalem and studied Byzantine, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art and archaeology.

In 1913, Bell made her final expedition across the Arabian desert, now northern Saudi Arabia, withstanding numerous raids and brief imprisonment in Hayil. During World War I, Bell’s insight into the region’s tribal relations acquired during her travels proved invaluable to the British government in securing Arab support against the Turks who were allied with Germany. With the support of T.E. Lawrence (well-known as Lawrence of Arabia), Bell became liaison between the British government offices in Delhi and Cairo providing both with information she garnered from Arab sources.

After the war ended, Bell’s knowledge of the land and people of Persia (Iran), Syria, Kuwait and the Mesopotamian region, was again sought by the British government to assist with drafting territorial boundaries for Iraq. Ultimately, Bell recommended that there should be an Arab head of state in Iraq, rather than a British protectorate. It was largely due to her efforts that King Faisal was crowned king in 1921. In addition to advising Faisal, Bell spent her remaining years as founder and director of the Iraq Museum of Antiquities. Bell died of an overdose of sleeping pills at her home in Baghdad.

Available at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections is The Arab War: confidential information for general headquarters from Gertrude Bell, being despatches from the secret “Arab bulletin.” Introduction by Sir Kinahan Cornwallis (London: Golden Cockerel Press, 1940). Number 63 of a limited edition of 500 copies. Includes a facsimile reproduction, printed by collotype process, of a holograph manuscript of an essay on romance in Iraq by Bell, which accompanies the first 30 limited copies. (Rare Book Collections 98A236)

  • Typed carbon of letter from Gertrude Bell to Cornelius Van Engert, Second Secretary to the U.S. Legation in Teheran, dated September 25, 1921, from Baghdad, reporting on the political situation in Mesopotamia. Bell was appointed by the British government to act as mediator between British and Arab interests in the region. (Cornelius Van Engert Papers, GTM.Gamms169, 2:18)

We have a hard six months work before us, the Assembling of the Congress, the passing of a reasonable organic law, and the framing of a workable treaty between the two Governments – one which will allow us to give the Arabs a very free hand and yet enable us to fulfill our international obligations, that is how I should define workable – and then I think we may feel that the foundations are firmly established with promise of endurance…

Phyllis Michaux

Phyllis Michaux was the founder and first president of the Association of American Wives of Europeans (AAWE), a non-profit volunteer organization of American women, resident in France, who share interests in bi-cultural living. AAWE provides information and education on bilingualism, citizenship, education, legal, and voting rights to American citizens living abroad. The organization is a member of the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO). As an American citizen living in France since 1946, and raising a family with her French husband, Michaux became increasingly concerned about the implications of her children’s dual citizenship. Under Section 301(b) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 children born overseas of an American parent could not retain citizenship unless they resided for five consecutive years in the United States between the ages of fourteen and twenty-eight. In 1961, Michaux mobilized a group of fifty concerned mothers who brought their concerns about the citizenship law to the U.S. Department of State. A year later, organized and led by Michaux as the AAWE, the women embarked on letter-writing campaigns to Congress. Through their efforts, the citizenship law was amended in 1968 with the residence period reduced from five to two years. Michaux chronicled the history of AAWE in her book The Unknown Ambassadors: A Saga of Citizenship (1996). The AAWE is now an organization of six hundred members based primarily in France. (Phyllis Michaux Papers, GTM990430)

  • Phyllis Michaux. The Unknown Ambassadors: A Saga of Citizenship (Bayside, N.Y.: Aletheia Publications, 1996). (Rare Book Collections, 08A152)



Find out more about the women’s manuscript collections at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections here.


Curated by Lisette Matano