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Frances Elizabeth Willis 1899 1983 lived a remarkable life She was the first person to receive a PhD in Political Science from Stanford University 1923 and the first woman to make a career in the US Foreign Service 1927 1964 She started as a Foreign Service Officer Unclassified slowly worked her way up the Foreign Service ladder and was appointed the first career woman Ambassador in 1953 serving as ambassador to three countries She was appointed the first woman Career Ambassador in 1962 These accomplishments in the face of massive gender bias in both the State Department and the Foreign Service breaking glass ceilings—and glass tables—along the way are the subject of a gripping new biography Frances Elizabeth Willis Up the Foreign Service Ladder to the Summit—Despite the Limitations of Her Sex Throughout her distinguished career Frances conferred with Secretaries of State Grew Acheson Dulles and Rusk Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke and Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy She was the only woman to attend the Big Four Summit Conference in Geneva in 1955 She hosted celebrities and luminaries including Eugene Ormandy Arthur Rubenstein Louis Armstrong and Clare Booth Luce and had a memorable culinary encounter with Julia Child The new biography is an essential read for anyone interested in women's history and early 20th century political history


10 thoughts on “Frances Elizabeth Willis

  1. says:

    Disclaimer I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review itFrances Elizabeth Willis 1899 1983 was the first woman to rise through the ranks of the US Foreign Service to become a Career Ambassador serving as the United Stares ambassador to Switzerland Norway and Ceylon There had been other women who had served as ambassadors previously but they had been political appointees This biography traces her remarkable careerThe author her nephew starts with a rare anecdote Miss Willis and it was Miss Willis until she became Madame Ambassador shared with her family asking them not to repeat it until everyone involved was dead And no wonder as it contradicted official history and might have reflected unfavorably on another ambassador She never kept a diary did not retain any official documents that were not about her directly and by the time she thought about writing a memoir Miss Willis’ memory was beginning to fail for medical reasonsSo it is that there are some unfortunate gaps in this biography–but I have certainly seen biographies with worse gaps The author was able to get access to declassified documents including her service dossier and the latter has much of the interest in this book It seems that during her career Frances Willis never reuested to see what was in her dossier and as a result was unaware of just how deep the gender bias against her wasThe subtitle of the biography is “Up the Foreign Service ladder to the summit–despite the limitations of her sex a repeated phrase in the dossier The old saying that a woman has to be twice as good as a man to be given half the respect certainly seems true here The “old guard” did not think consular work and diplomacy were fit work for women and did everything they could behind the scenes to discourage themBut Miss Willis was an extraordinary person and went above and beyond to prove her worth to the Foreign Service Promotions might have come long after they should have but she kept plugging away and those co workers who knew her personally boosted her careerThis book offers some interesting insights into the world of the Foreign Service and how it changed during Miss Willis’ long career Sadly some of the most interesting sounding bits remain classified so we will probably never know much about the espionage side of her jobThere are photos throughout the text rather than crammed into the middle like many other biographies There’s an appendix explaining the history bureaucratic structure and nomenclature of the Foreign Service which is helpful to decipher some of the arcane moments as well as an indexThe author is perhaps a little too fond of reminding the reader that he was in the Navy and there are some spellchecker passed typos “compliment ” and “complement” get mixed up a couple of times It’s not bad for a self published book but could have used another editorial passThis book will be of interest to those who want a look at the workings of American diplomacy and those who want to read about successful women note that Frances Williams was careful to distance herself from the feminist movement as such; that could have been the kiss of death in the early daysDue to the self publishing it may not be stocked in your local library so consider buying a copy


  2. says:

    Frances Elizabeth Willis the most extraordinary woman I had never heard of until now In spite of the fact that I had taken an undergraduate women's history class I was unfamiliar with Frances Elizabeth Willis despite the facts that she was the first person to receive a PhD in Political Science from Stanford University and the first woman to make the Foreign Service her career where she rose through the ranks to become an ambassador and was the first woman to be honored with the title of career ambassador This book is well organized and the amount of information presented is astounding The information is presented clearly and makes for a smooth read I like how the author was able to present a detailed account about her life without the personal biases that accompany the works of other writers of many similar biographies He did not reduce to speculation such as with the Julia apron and was still able to present the reader with a remarkably detailed account of many events within Ms Willis's life The layout and information presented within this book is right on par with if not better than many of the biographies that were assigned reading in our women's history class I would definitely recommend this book to anyone studying women's or political history or anyone else who is curious about these subjects


  3. says:

    WHAT A LADY She faces so many walls and just climbed over then We women now have no idea what women back then had to get through She over came so much She achieve the most wonderful things don't want to spoil it for you she was a very elegant woman so determined an looking only aheadThanks to the author and Goodreads for allowing me to win this wonderful book


  4. says:

    I won this book from the Good Reads giveaway and found it to be a very well written book A truly great story of a great woman I really enjoyed the story of her life It was a book that was very difficult to put it down


  5. says:

    Very interesting book The accomplishments of Frances Willis are amazing a very enjoyable read