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44
JULY-AUGUST 2013
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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
FEATURE
FS HERITAGE
LUCILE ATCHERSON CURTIS:
THE FIRST FEMALE
U.S. DIPLOMAT
In 1922, the frst female permitted to
take the Foreign Service exam passed
with the third-highest score that year.
But it was only the frst of many
hurdles she faced.
BY MOL LY M . WOOD
A
s late as 1924, State Department
ofcials charged with recruiting,
examining and evaluating appli-
cants to the U.S. Foreign Service
remained convinced that women
were “not ftted to discharge the
exacting and peculiar duties of a
Foreign Service ofcer.” While the
State Department had, for several
decades, employed women in clerical positions “with great
success,” its leadership had nonetheless concluded that they
were unsuited for professional diplomatic or consular work.
After the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women
the right to vote in 1920, however, women’s groups began lob-
bying actively in Washington for greater access to government
positions. On a case-by-case basis, State Department ofcials
allowed a small number of women to take the Foreign Service
examination.
Lucile Atcherson was the frst to pass both the written and
oral exams. On Dec. 5, 1922, the U.S. Senate confrmed her
appointment, and she was assigned to the State Department’s
Latin American Division in Washington, D.C.
Early Life, Education and Woman Sufrage
Atcherson was born in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 11, 1894.
She attended the prestigious Columbus School for Girls and
fnished her course of study at the age of 14. One of the head-
mistresses at the Columbus School suggested that she attend