Breaking Protocol: America's First Female Ambassadors, 1933–1964

Front Cover
University Press of Kentucky, Jan 21, 2020 - Political Science - 295 pages
An in-depth history of the Big Six, the first six female ambassadors for the United States.

“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.

Using newly available archival sources, Philip Nash examines the history of the “Big Six” and how they carved out their rightful place in history. After a chapter capturing the male world of American diplomacy in the early twentieth century, the book devotes one chapter to each of the female ambassadors and delves into a number of topics, including their backgrounds and appointments, the issues they faced while on the job, how they were received by host countries, the complications of protocol, and the press coverage they received, which was paradoxically favorable yet deeply sexist. In an epilogue that also provides an overview of the role of women in modern US diplomacy, Nash reveals how these trailblazers helped pave the way for more gender parity in US foreign relations.

Praise for Breaking Protocol

“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 U.S. 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

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


Denmark 19331936
Norway 19371941
Luxembourg 19491953
Denmark 19491953 and Bulgaria 19621964
Italy 19531956
Switzerland 19531957 Norway 19571961 and Ceylon 19611964
Acknowledgments and Permissions

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2020)

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.

Bibliographic information