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March 2016


the foreign Service journal

FS Heritage

The evolution of personnel evaluations at State is reflected

in the dossier of Frances Elizabeth Willis, the first woman to

make a career of the Foreign Service.

By N i cholas J . Wi l l i s

Nicholas J. Willis is the author of

Frances ElizabethWillis

(2013), a self-published biography of his aunt, the first

woman to make a career of the U.S. Foreign Service. After

retirement from a career working with military radar

systems and their countermeasures, he devoted himself to

collecting her papers and relevant material to document her life. This ar-

ticle is an outgrowth of that effort. Frances Willis’ biography is available

by emailing


s most

Foreign Service Journal

readers know, Employee Evalu-

ation Reports for all U.S. Foreign

Service personnel are signed by the

rating officer, the rated employee,

a reviewing officer and the panel

chairperson. Further, the EER

program has been vetted and fine-

tuned by the Government Account-

ability Office in 2010 and again in 2013.

But as the career of Frances Elizabeth Willis, the third woman

to join the Foreign Service—and my aunt—illustrates, the pro-

cess wasn’t always so transparent and objective. Frances Willis

entered the Service in 1927, serving for 37 years until reaching

the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 1964.

Her personnel evaluations started in 1927 with grades and




A Unique View

comments from instructors in the Foreign Service School (now

the Foreign Service Institute), and ended in 1955 when she was

evaluated for the last time, one month before she was pro-

moted to Career Minister. Data for Lucile Atcherson, the first

woman to enter the Foreign Service, has also become available

for 1925 and 1926, so this article covers those two additional

years, as well.

As H. L. Calkin documents in his 1978 book,

Women in the

Department of State,

these female pioneers were actively dis-

couraged from entering or staying in the Service. Just six women

were accepted between 1922 and 1941, and only two stayed.

Frances Willis was the first of these, and the evaluations in her

dossier illustrate the gender-biased procedures used to hold

her back professionally. More positively, they also remind us of

the extent to which the State Department personnel evaluation

system has evolved since then.

While many sources in the Foreign Service and Department

of State generated personnel evaluations during this period, one

element of the system remained constant: the Annual Efficiency

Report submitted to the department by the employee’s onsite

supervisor. Eventually the AER evolved into the EER, the para-

mount metric in the current system, but between 1925 and 1946

it was only one of many inputs considered. It became signifi-

cantly more important after World War II.

Personnel evaluations generated during this period changed