the foreign Service journal
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
(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
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