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48
JULY-AUGUST 2013
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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Grew also tried to prepare Atcherson for the assignment. When
he met with her before she left Washington, he advised her to take
a chaperone with her to Bern. But Atcherson demurred: “I lived in
France, most of the time in the wicked city of Paris, four-and-one-
half years by myself. I didn’t have a chaperone there. ... You know I
worked up at the front in France. I really think I can protect myself
from the Swiss.”
Atcherson arrived in Bern in the summer of 1925 and was
welcomed at her new post. “Te Swiss were very kind to me,”
she recalled. “Tey never made me feel [like] an outcast. …Tey
treated me just like any other colleague.” Her relationship with
Gibson was cordial and professional, but mostly distant. Dur-
ing much of her assignment in Bern, the minister was in Geneva
attending a League of Nations disarmament conference.
When Gibson also required First Secretary Alan Winslow to
accompany him to Geneva, Atcherson was left in charge of the
legation. She was nervous at frst, but was determined that she
would “do my best not to disturb them.” She had learned that a
previous secretary, who had been left in charge when both Win-
slow and Gibson were away, had “called them for instructions and
advice all the time and that they were bothered almost to death.”
Atcherson was determined to make a better impression.
She developed more confdence once she observed that
“the people here seemed extremely amused that I am left in
charge, and rather glad, too, which I think is nice of them.” She
also believed that the State Department’s willingness to “leave a
woman in charge of its afairs in Switzerland, even if only for a few
weeks,” only “helps to prove my own point that a woman can do
diplomatic work; and moreover, it proves that I can do it.”
Meanwhile, Atcherson received the news that a second
woman, Pattie Field, had passed the 1925 Foreign Service exami-
nation, “with fying colors.” She seemed relieved that another
woman would be entering the Service. “It was discouraging to
think that after so much efort to open the door for women in a
new feld, none had proved herself qualifed to enter,” she wrote
to her family. “I feel that now the task is almost done; a little feld
work, and it will be really over; for with another woman, I think
the department is really committed to equality of opportunity for
women as a policy.”
Time passed pleasantly in Bern, a quiet post, and Atcherson
enjoyed a full social life and satisfactory working conditions.
Except for occasional busy periods when everyone else was away,
Atcherson spent much of her time reading French and German
newspapers, reporting on local political conditions, dealing with
regular passport work and taking care of routine legation corre-
spondence.
Her duties also included, as they did for any Foreign Service
ofcer, the “social work” associated with diplomatic representa-
tion: the teas, golf outings, dinners and parties, as well as calls
on and from colleagues at other legations, the local elite and the
American expatriate community. In the midst of this social whirl,
Atcherson met Dr. George Morris Curtis, a young surgeon from
Chicago doing a two-year postgraduate medical tour of Europe
to observe the latest surgical techniques. By early 1927, they were
making plans for the future.
Resignation and Marriage
By this time Atcherson had become increasingly frustrated
because the Personnel Board repeatedly passed her over for
promotion. In 1927 the board transferred her to the U.S. legation
in Panama City. By the time she sailed for Panama, Atcherson and
Curtis had decided to marry, and she made plans for her resigna-
tion and return to the United States. She later admitted that she
would have liked to remain in the diplomatic service, but there
was no way to reconcile marriage to Curtis, a surgeon in Chicago,
with life abroad in the Foreign Service.
Atcherson was eager to start her new life with Curtis, but she
was also determined to delay her resignation until the department
announced the next round of promotions. So she bided her time
in Panama for a fewmonths. She wanted to earn the promotion
she believed she deserved, and to show that it was possible for a
woman to succeed in the Foreign Service.
Shortly after receiving the disappointing news that the Person-
nel Board had once again failed to recommend her for promotion,
however, she submitted her resignation to the State Department
on Sept. 19, 1927. Several weeks later, she announced her engage-
ment to Curtis. Tey were married on Jan. 16, 1928.
While raising two daughters, Lucile Atcherson Curtis engaged
in numerous philanthropic activities. Te State Department hon-
ored her for her achievements in 1978, eight years before she died
in Columbus, Ohio, on May 9, 1986, at the age of 91.
n
She encouraged women’s
groups and others to continue
to pressure the administration
on her behalf, and took her
case for the value of women
diplomats to the public.