State Department History
Why is it called the Department of State?
On September 15, 1789, Congress passed "An Act to provide for the safe keeping of the Acts, Records, and Seal of the United States, and for other purposes." This law changed the name of the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of State because certain domestic duties were assigned to the agency. These included:
- Receipt, publication, distribution, and preservation of the laws of the United States;
- Preparation, sealing, and recording of the commissions of Presidential appointees;
- Preparation and authentication of copies of records and authentication of copies under the Department's seal;
- Custody of the Great Seal of the United States;
- Custody of the records of the former Secretary of the Continental Congress, except for those of the Treasury and War Departments.
Other domestic duties that the Department was responsible for at various times included issuance of patents on inventions, publication of the census returns, management of the mint, control of copyrights, and regulation of immigration. Most domestic functions have been transferred to other agencies. Those that remain in the Department are: storage and use of the Great Seal, performance of protocol functions for the White House, drafting of certain Presidential proclamations, and replies to public inquiries.
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The Secretaries of State
How many Secretaries of State have there been?
There have been 64 Secretaries of State since Thomas Jefferson was appointed to the position on September 26, 1789. (See List of Secretaries of State)
How many persons have served more than once as Secretary?
Two persons have held the position twice. Daniel Webster served from March 5, 1841 to May 8, 1843, and from July 22, 1850 to October 24, 1852. James G. Blaine served from March 5 to December 19, 1881, and from March 5, 1889 to June 4, 1892.
What was the shortest term of office of any Secretary of State?
Elihu B. Washburne served from March 5-16, 1869. Washburne then served as the U.S. Minister to France until 1877.
What was the longest term of any Secretary of State?
Cordell Hull served from March 4, 1933 to November 30, 1944.
Has any member of the Foreign Service served as Secretary of State?
The only member of the Foreign Service to have served as Secretary of State was Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who served from December 8, 1992 until January 19, 1993. Eagleburger had served as Acting Secretary of State from August 23, 1992.
Who is the first woman Secretary of State?
Madeleine K. Albright is the first woman to have served as Secretary of State.
Were there equivalents to the Secretary of State prior to the Constitution?
There were two Secretaries of Foreign Affairs under the Continental Congress. Robert R. Livingston served from October 20, 1781 until June 4, 1783. John Jay served from May 7, 1784 until March 4, 1789.
Who was the first Secretary of State to travel outside the United States while in office?
William H. Seward took a working vacation in the Caribbean between January 1 and January 28, 1866. He met with Danish colonial officials in the Virgin Islands, with the Presidents of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and with Spanish colonial officials in Cuba.
Who was the first Secretary of State to travel outside the United States on official business?
The first official travel by a Secretary of State outside the United States was by Elihu Root in 1906. Root left the United States on July 4 and attended the Third International Conference of American States in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after which he visited Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Panama, and Colombia.
Was foreign travel always considered as part of a Secretary of State's duties?
Foreign travel was not always considered compatible with the office of Secretary of State. John W. Foster resigned in 1893 in order to head the U.S. delegation to an international arbitration tribunal in Paris that was seeking means to protect North Pacific fur seals.
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The Great Seal
Why does the State Department have possession of the Great Seal?
The Department of State acquired possession of the Great Seal through an Act of Congress on September 15, 1789, entitled, "An Act to provide for the safe keeping of the Acts, Records, and Seal of the United States, and for other purposes." In the fulfillment of its duties, the Department of State uses the Great Seal in the preparation, sealing, and recording of the commissions of Presidential appointees, on instruments of ratification of treaties and in the preparation and authentication of copies of records and authentication of copies under the Department's Seal.
Has the Seal always looked the same?
The Great Seal has had several different incarnations throughout U.S. history. A committee was formed to design the seal after a resolution was passed by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The committee, composed of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, proposed the first design of the seal. Congress turned that design over to a second committee which proposed another design. Yet a third committee was appointed, and Congress adopted a final design on June 20, 1782. The first die was cut in 1782, and when if became worn, a new die was engraved in 1841. The 1841 seal showed only six arrows in the eagle's claw, used five rather than six pointed stars, and added fruit to the olive branch. Another die was engraved in 1877 that enlarged the stars and lettering of the motto; this cast is considered the poorest Great Seal die. A new die was engraved in 1885 using the original 1782 description as a guideline. The 185 version was more formal and larger than previous additions. The eagle once again held 13 arrows, but now he also held an olive branch with 13 leaves and 13 olives. The clouds above the eagle also appeared in a circle for the first time. By 1904 the 1885 seal was worn out, and a new seal was engraved resembling almost exactly the die of 1885. This die was used for 26 years and then used to create a master die in 1986. From that time the Great Seal has remained the same.
What does the seal symbolize?
Originally the seal was meant to symbolize the beliefs and values of the founding fathers and the new nation. The red and white stripes of the shield represent the states united under and supporting the blue, representing the Chief and Congress. White symbolizes purity and innocence, red signifies hardiness and valor, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice. The shield is supported solely by the American eagle to denote that Americans should rely on their own virtue. The number 13, symbolic of the 13 original colonies, is displayed in the bundle of arrows, the stripes of the shield, and the stars in the constellation. The olive branch and the arrows display the power of peace and war. A new nation taking its place among established, sovereign states is represented by the constellation of stars. The motto E Pluribus Unum expresses the union of the 13 states.
Where can I get further information about the Great Seal?
For the online text of a booklet entitled "The Great Seal of the United States", go to http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/27807.pdf. For a printed copy send a surface mailing address to email@example.com. More detailed information appears in Richard S. Patterson and Richardson Dougall, The Eagle and the Shield: A History of the Great Seal of the United States (Washington, Department of State, 1976), 637 pages, illustrated.
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Who was the first U.S. Diplomat?
Benjamin Franklin was the first U.S. diplomat. He was appointed on September 26, 1776 as part of a commission charged with gaining French support for American independence. He was appointed Minister to France on September 14, 1778 and presented his credentials on March 23, 1779, becoming the first American diplomat to be received by a foreign government. Franklin was one of three Commissioners who negotiated the peace treaty with Great Britain, and continued to serve in France until May 17, 1785. He was also appointed Minister to Sweden in 1782 in order to negotiate a commercial treaty with that country. He signed the treaty in Paris on April 3, 1783 and did not go to Stockholm.
Who was the first U.S. Consul?
William Palfrey of Massachusetts was the first U.S. consul. Prior to his appointment as Consul to France on November 4, 1780, he had been a lieutenant colonel and Paymaster-General of the Continental Army. He was lost at sea on his way to his post. His name is the first on the memorial plaque in the lobby of the Department of State that honors U.S. diplomats who lost their lives under heroic or tragic circumstances.
When was the first U.S. treaty signed?
The first U.S. treaty to be signed was a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France that was signed in Paris on February 6, 1778.
What was the first U.S. treaty with a non-European nation?
The first U.S. treaty with a non-European nation was a Treaty of Friendship and Amity that was signed with Morocco on June 23, 1786. Thomas Barclay, the U.S. Consul General in Paris, negotiated it. It was valid for fifty years and was renewed in 1837.
What was the first U.S. treaty to be ratified under the Constitution?
A consular convention with France was signed at Versailles on November 14, 1788. President George Washington submitted to the Senate on June 11, 1789, the Senate approved it on July 29, and it entered into effect on January 6, 1790.
When and where was the first U.S. consular post established?
The first U.S. consular post was established in Bordeaux, France in March 1778. It was closed in 1996.
What is the oldest diplomatic property owned by the United States?
The oldest diplomatic property owned by the United States is the U.S. Legation building in Tangier. The Sultan of Morocco made a gift of the building in 1821. It served as the U.S. Consulate and Legation until 1956. It is currently preserved as a museum and study center.
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Ambassadors and Chiefs of Mission
Who were the first U.S. Ambassadors?
The rank of Ambassador was first used by the United States in 1893. Thomas F. Bayard was appointed Ambassador to Great Britain on March 30. James B. Eustis was appointed Ambassador to France on April l8. Prior to this date, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomats were Ministers.
Which were the last U.S. diplomatic missions to become Embassies?
The last U.S. Legations (a legation is the office of a Minister) were in Bulgaria and Hungary. They were raised to Embassy status on November 28, 1966.
Which U.S. chief of mission served for the longest time?
George P. Marsh served as Minister to Italy from March 20, 1861 until his death on July 23, 1882.
Which U.S. chief of mission served for the shortest time?
Francis E. Meloy, Jr. was assassinated in Beirut, Lebanon, on June 16, 1976 while on his way to present his credentials to that country's president.
Who was the youngest chief of a U.S. diplomatic mission?
Edward Rumsey Wing was 24 years old when he was appointed Minister to Ecuador in 1869. Wing drank himself to death at his post in 1874.
How many Ambassadors are accredited to more than one country?
As of September 30, 1997, 11 U.S. Ambassadors are accredited to more than one country.
- The Ambassador to Barbados is also accredited to Antigua and Barbuda; Dominica; Grenada; St. Kitts and Nevis; St. Lucia; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- The Ambassador to Cameroon is also accredited to Equatorial Guinea.
- The Ambassador to Fiji is also accredited to Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu.
- The Ambassador to Gabon is also accredited to Sao Tome and Principe.
- The Ambassador to the Marshall Islands is also accredited to Kiribati.
- The Ambassador to Mauritius is also accredited to the Comoros and the Seychelles.
- The Ambassador to New Zealand is also accredited to Western Samoa.
- The Ambassador to Papua New Guinea is also accredited to the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
- The Ambassador to the Philippines is also accredited to Palau.
- The Ambassador to Sri Lanka is also accredited to the Maldives.
- The Ambassador to Switzerland is also accredited to Liechtenstein.
Were earlier Chiefs of Mission accredited to more than one country?
The first U.S. representative to the Central American States was appointed in 1825. Representatives were separately commissioned to Guatemala and Honduras; San Salvador (El Salvador); Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 1858. From 1873 to 1891, U.S. Ministers were commissioned to "The Central American States" but accredited to each of them. In 1891, one Minister was commissioned to Guatemala and Honduras and another to San Salvador, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. In 1907, there were U.S. Ministers to: Guatemala; Honduras and San Salvador; and Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Separate Ministers to each country were first commissioned in 1908.
- From 1882 to 1902, Ministers to Greece were also accredited to Romania and Serbia. They also became Diplomatic Agents to Bulgaria in 1903. In 1905, the Legation in Athens ceased to be responsible for Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Ministers to Athens were, however, accredited to Montenegro until that country was incorporated into Yugoslavia in December 1918.
- From 1905 until 1919, Ministers to Romania were also accredited to Serbia and Bulgaria.
- From 1866 to 1871, Ministers to Argentina were also accredited to Uruguay.
- From 1882 to 1914, Ministers to Uruguay were also accredited to Paraguay.
- From 1885 to 1905, Ministers to Haiti were also accredited to the Dominican Republic.
- From 1922 to 1940, Ambassadors to Belgium were also Ministers to Luxembourg.
- From 1922 to 1937, Ministers to Latvia were accredited to all three Baltic States. A separate Legation was established for Lithuania in 1938. The Minister to Latvia was also accredited to Estonia until both countries were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940.
- From 1935 to 1942, Ministers to Persia/Iran were also accredited to Afghanistan.
- The first U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam (1950-1954) was also accredited to Laos and Cambodia.
- The first U.S. Ambassador to the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire) in 1960 was also accredited to Dahomey (Benin), Niger, and Upper Volta (Burkina Faso).
- The first two U.S. Ambassadors to Botswana (1971-1976) were also accredited to Lesotho and Swaziland.
- The record for multiple accreditations belongs to Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., who was accredited to the governments-in-exile in London of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia during World War II.
How many U.S. Ambassadors have been killed by terrorists?
Five U.S. Ambassadors have been killed by terrorists:
- John Gordon Mein, in Guatemala, on August 28, 1968
- Cleo A. Noel, Jr., in Sudan, on March 1, l973
- Rodger P. Davies, in Cyprus, on August 19, 1974
- Francis E. Meloy, Jr., in Lebanon, on June 16, 1976
- Adolph Dubs, Afghanistan, on February 14, 1979
Have any U.S. Ambassadors died in accidents?
- Laurence A. Steinhardt, who was Ambassador to Canada, was killed in a plane crash near Ramseyville, Ontario on March 28, 1950.
- Arnold L. Raphel, who was Ambassador to Pakistan, was killed in a plane crash near Bahawalpur on August 17, 1988
Are there some emissaries who had difficult introductions to countries in which they would later serve?
- Ambassador Douglas "Pete" Peterson, who was appointed to Vietnam in 1997, had been a prisoner of war there from 1966 to 1973.
- Richard O'Brien, a mariner from Philadelphia, was captured by Barbary Pirates in 1785 and spent more then ten years as a captive in Algiers. During this time he was a spokesman for his fellow American captives and corresponded with the Department of State. When diplomatic relations were established with Algiers in 1796, O'Brien went back as Consul General, helped establish relations with Tunis and Tripoli, and served until 1803.
- James Leander Cathcart, one of O'Brien's fellow captives, would be the first U.S. Consul in Tripoli.
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All in the Family
Have there been multi-generational foreign affairs families in U.S. history?
- John Adams was the first U.S. Minister to the United Kingdom. He was appointed February 24, 1785, presented his credentials to King George III on June 1, 1785, and served until February 20, 1788. His son John Quincy Adams was the first U.S. Minister to the United Kingdom after the War of 1812. He was appointed February 28, 1815, and served until May 14, 1817. Grandson Charles Francis Adams served from 1861 to 1868. Much of his work involved keeping Britain neutral during the Civil War and negotiating postwar agreements with Britain to settle U.S. claims for damages against that country.
- A family of English Quaker merchants named Fox were U.S. Consuls at Falmouth, England. Robert Were Fox served from 1794 to 1812, and again from 1815 to his death in 1818. Robert Were Fox , Jr. served from 1819 to 1854 (their middle name is sometimes spelled "Weare" or "Ware"). Somehow the Consulate passed out of the family between 1854 and 1863. Two more generations of Foxes then served. Alfred Fox was appointed in 1863, and Howard Fox served from 1874 until the post was closed in December 1905.
- Three generations of the Sprague family served as Consuls in Gibraltar. Horatio Sprague was appointed in 1832 and served until his death in 1848. His son Horatio J. Sprague served from 1848 until his death in 1901. Grandson Richard L. Sprague served from 1901 until his death in 1934.
Have any children of Secretaries of State served in the State Department at the same time as their fathers?
Three sons of Secretaries of State held high positions in the Department while their fathers served.
- Daniel Webster's eldest son, Daniel Fletcher Webster, served as Chief Clerk of the Department of State from March 6, 1841 to April 23, 1843. The Chief Clerk was at this time the second-ranking officer in the Department.
- Frederick W. Seward, son of William H. Seward, served as Assistant Secretary of State (then the second-ranking officer) from March 6, 1861 to March 4, 1869.
- Walker Blaine, son of James G. Blaine, served as Third Assistant Secretary of State from July 1, 1881 to June 30, 1882.
Have any married couples served simultaneously as Ambassadors?
Four married couples have served simultaneously as Ambassadors.
Who are some distinguished writers who have held diplomatic, consular, or senior State Department posts?
- Ellsworth Bunker (Ambassador at Large, 1966-67; Ambassador to Vietnam, 1967-1973 ) and Carol Laise (Nepal 1966-1973)
- Carleton S. Coon, Jr., (Nepal 1981-84) and Jane Abell Coon (Bangladesh 1981-84)
- William R. Brownfield (Chile 2002-2004; Venezuela 2004- ) and Kristie Kenney (Ecuador 2002- )
- Charles Ries (Greece 2004- ) and Marcie Ries (Albania 2004- )
- Washington Irving, Minister to Spain, 1842-46.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, Consul at Liverpool, 1853-57.
- Bret Harte, Consul at Crefeld, 1878-1880, and at Glasgow, 1880-1885.
- James Russell Lowell, Minister to Spain, 1877-80; to Great Britain, 1880-85.
- James Fenimore Cooper, Consul at Lyon, 1826.
- Lewis (Lew) Wallace, Minister to Turkey, 1881-85.
- John Howard Payne, Consul at Tunis, 1842-45 and 1851-52.
- John Lathrop Motley, Minister to Austria, 1861-67; to Great Britain 1869-70.
- William Dean Howells, Consul at Venice, 1861-65.
- Archibald MacLeish, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, 1944-45.
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Origins and Evolution of the Foreign Service
Article II, section 2 of the Constitution authorized the President to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, "Ambassadors, other public Ministers, and Consuls." From 1789 until 1924, the Diplomatic Service, which staffed U.S. Legations and Embassies, and the Consular Service, which was primarily responsible for promoting American commerce and assisting distressed American sailors, developed separately.
When was the Consular Service established?
The first Act of Congress providing for U.S. consuls abroad was passed on April 14, 1792. Except for the consuls appointed to the Barbary States of North Africa (who enjoyed quasi-diplomatic status when Muslim countries did not maintain permanent missions abroad), U.S. consuls received no salary and were expected to earn their livings from private trade or from fees charged for official services. It was not uncommon for consuls to have been merchants with business connections in the cities to which they had been appointed. They did not have to be U.S. citizens.
When did U.S. consuls first receive a salary?
An Act of Congress of August 18, 1856 established two schedules of consular posts. Consuls appointed to Schedule B posts were paid between $1,000 and $7,500 per year. They could still collect fees, but could no longer engage in trade. Schedule C appointees received between $500 and $1,000 per year and could engage in trade. Non-citizens might be appointed to consular posts, but could not be paid.
Who were the first professional consular appointees?
The Act of August 18, 1856 provided for the appointment of up to 25 "consular pupils", who would take an examination before their appointment and be assigned to consulates at the discretion of the President. This provision was repealed during the next session of Congress. On June 20, 1864, Congress authorized 13 consular clerks. Between 1864 and 1896, 64 consular clerks were appointed. Only 8 were promoted to consul; most preferred a small ($1,000) salary and security to a larger one of uncertain duration.
What was the forerunner of the Foreign Service Examination?
President Grover Cleveland issued an Executive Order on September 20, 1895 that required appointees to consular positions with salaries between $1,000 and $2,500 to be either a qualified officer of the Department, or to pass a written examination on consular regulations and an oral examination that included demonstrating proficiency in a foreign language. Executive orders issued by President Theodore Roosevelt on November 10, 1905 and June 27, 1906 instituted examinations for the lower grades of the Consular Service and for secretaries in the Diplomatic Service.
When was the present-day Foreign Service established?
The Rogers Act (named for Rep. John Jacob Rogers) of May 24, 1924 amalgamated the Diplomatic and Consular Services into a unified Foreign Service.
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Women in the Foreign Service
Who were the first women in the Foreign Service?
Lucile Atcherson passed the Diplomatic Service examination in 1922 with the third-highest score, and was appointed a secretary in the Diplomatic Service on December 5, 1922. She was assigned as Third Secretary of the Legation in Berne, Switzerland, on April 11, 1925. She resigned September 19, 1927 in order to get married. Pattie H. Field was the first woman to enter the Foreign Service after passage of the Rogers Act. She was sworn in on April 20, 1925, served as a Vice Consul at Amsterdam, and resigned on June 27, 1929 to accept a job with the National Broadcasting Company.
Who was the first woman to be chief of a U.S. diplomatic mission?
Ruth Bryan Owen, daughter of William Jennings Bryan, was appointed Minister to Denmark on April 13, 1933. She presented her credentials on May 29, 1933 and served until June 27, 1936.
Who was the first woman to hold the rank of Ambassador?
Eugenie Moore Anderson was appointed Ambassador to Denmark on October 20, 1949. She presented her credentials on December 22, 1949, and served until January 19, 1953.
Who was the first woman Foreign Service Officer to become an Ambassador?
Frances E. Willis was appointed Ambassador to Switzerland on July 20, 1953, and presented her credentials on October 9. She served until May 5, 1957. She later served as Ambassador to Norway (1957-1961) and Ambassador to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) (1961-1964). Willis was the third woman Foreign Service Officer, being appointed on August 29, 1927. She was appointed Career Ambassador on March 20, 1962.
Who was the first woman to become an Assistant Secretary of State?
Carol C. Laise was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs on September 20, 1973. She served until March 27, 1975. She then served as Director General of the Foreign Service from April 11, 1975 to December 26, 1977.
Who was the first woman to head one of the regional bureaus?
Rozanne L. Ridgway was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs on July 18, 1985. She served until June 30, 1989. She had also been the first woman to serve as Counselor of the Department of State (March 18, 1980-February 24, 1981).
Who was the first woman Under Secretary of State?
Lucy Wilson Benson was appointed Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science, and Technology on March 23, 1977 and served until January 5, 1980. At the time of her appointment, she was the highest-ranking woman in the Department.
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Who was the first African-American diplomat?
Ebenezer Don Carlos Basset was the first African-American diplomat. He was Minister Resident and Consul General in Haiti from 1869 to 1877.
Who was the first African-American consul?
On October 29, 1845, Thomas O. Larkin, U.S. Consul in Monterey, California (then part of Mexico) appointed William A. Leidesdorff as Vice Consul at Yerba Buena (now San Francisco). Leidesdorff was born in the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) to a Danish planter and an Afro-Caribbean woman in 1810. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1834 while living in New Orleans. While living in California, he became a Mexican citizen in 1844 in order to increase his landholdings. His service as Vice Consul lasted until U.S. forces occupied northern California in July 1846. Leidesdorff died in San Francisco on May 18, 1848.
Who was the first African-American to hold the rank of Ambassador?
Edward R. Dudley was appointed Minister to Liberia in 1948 and promoted to Ambassador to Liberia in 1949.
Who was the first African-American to join the Foreign Service?
Clifton R. Wharton joined the Foreign Service in 1925. He became the first African-American Foreign Service Officer to become chief of a diplomatic mission when he was appointed Minister to Romania on February 5, 1958. This appointment made him the first of his race to be chief of a diplomatic mission to a European country. He served in Romania until October 21, 1960. He then served as Ambassador to Norway from April 18, 1961 to September 4, 1964.
Who was the First African-American to Become Secretary of State?
Colin Powell appointed Secretary of State by President George W. Bush in January 2001, was the first African-American Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, he was the highest ranking official of the Department. Prior to Secretary Powell, Clifton R. Wharton, Jr. had been the highest ranking African-American in the Department. He served as Deputy Secretary of State (the number two position in the Deparatment) from January 27 to November 8, 1973, and was the son of pioneering Foreign Service Officer Clifton R. Wharton.
Who was the first African-American woman to become Secretary of State?
Condoleezza Rice became the 66th Secretary of State under President George W. Bush on January 26, 2005, and is the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, she is the highest ranking official of the Department.
Who was the first African-American woman to become an Ambassador?
Patricia Roberts Harris was appointed Ambassador to Luxembourg on June 4, 1965, and presented her credentials on September 7. She served until September 22, 1967.
Who was the first African-American to become chief of a State Department bureau?
Barbara M. Watson became Administrator of the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs on July 31, 1968, and served until December 31, 1974. She was re-appointed on April 7, 1977. On August 17 of that year, she became Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, and served until September 11, 1980.
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