THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
WOMEN IN THE FOREIGN SERVICE
Maxine Desilet’s letters home, accented by excerpts from her efficiency reports,
paint a vivid picture of life in the postwar Foreign Service.
BY SUZANNE COF ER
Suzanne Cofer is a retired public school teacher and a former local elected official who lives in Lacey, Washington, with her hus-
band. Since her 2010 retirement, she has undertaken various writing projects. Maxine Desilet Dickerson, who served in the Foreign
Service from 1949 to 1955, was Cofer’s godmother and paternal aunt. As a young woman, Cofer discovered a collection of her aunt’s
letters from 1936 to 1956 stored in a large box at her grandmother’s home. The story the letters told inspired Cofer to accept a teach-
ing position in Australia and see the world. Dickerson’s son Jeff gave the letters to Cofer, knowing she loved them and would help share them with
a wider audience. Photos and images are courtesy of Suzanne Cofer.
On Assignment with
axine Desilet (1918-2000) applied
for the U.S. Foreign Service in
August 1945. For various reasons,
including hiring freezes, it was
four years before she joined. She
applied in Philadelphia, where
she had been working during
World War II as an administra-
tive assistant with the U.S. Signal
Corps. After the war, she returned home to Lewiston, Idaho.
On Feb. 16, 1949, Desilet received a telegram from the
Foreign Service offering her a stenographer position. She was
reminded that she would need to meet standards in clerical
tests when she arrived in Washington, D.C. She would have to
demonstrate a shorthand speed of 100 words per minute and a
typing speed of at least 50 words per minute.
After resigning her existing position and attending to per-
sonal affairs, she reported to Washington, D.C., on April 1, 1949.
She considered herself lucky, because during the postwar years
thousands were applying to join the U.S. Foreign Service. Her
first posting was to Berlin. What follows are excerpts from her
letters home and her efficiency reports.
Maxine Desilet in Berlin, 1949.