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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Electronic Information and Publications Office > Publications > Miscellaneous Publications > U.S. Postage Stamps Commemorate Distinguished American Diplomats

Frances E. Willis

U.S. Postage Stamps Commemorate Distinguished American Diplomats

Frances E. WillisFrances E. Willis (1899-1983) was the first female Foreign Service Officer to rise through the ranks of the Foreign Service to become an ambassador, the first woman to make the Foreign Service a career, and the first American woman to be honored with the title of Career Ambassador.

Willis earned a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1923 and became an assistant professor of political science at Vassar College. She decided to change careers, and in 1927 she became the third woman to enter the Foreign Service because, as she told an interviewer in 1953, "I didn’t want to just teach political science, I wanted to be a part of it."

Willis enjoyed many "firsts" during her career as a diplomat, including serving as the first woman chargé d’affaires, the first woman deputy chief of mission, the first U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, and the first woman to serve as ambassador at three of her posts. In 1962 she became the first woman to be designated Career Ambassador, a rare distinction held by only 14 other people at the time.

In 1953, Willis received a Woman of the Year award from the Los Angeles Times, and in 1955 she received the Eminent Achievement Award from the American Woman’s Association. In November 1973, the American Foreign Service Association presented her with the Foreign Service Cup for her "outstanding contribution to the conduct of foreign relations of the United States."

Want to know more? Read about the other diplomats in this special commemorative series.


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