AFSA History Timeline

Selected Highlights

Editor’s Note: As AFSA and the Foreign Service both celebrate their 90th anniversaries, here are some of the events that have shaped both institutions. As with any timeline, there are many other important developments we could cite, but we believe these represent a good beginning.

Year(s) Event
1789 Act of Congress establishes Department of State.
1791 Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson establishes separate diplomatic and consular services.
1856 Organic Act regulates diplomatic and consular posts, ranks, compensation, and functions. Salary cap set of $17,500 stays in place for ninety years, until 1946.
1869 Appointment of first African-American diplomat, Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, Minister Resident and Consul General in Haiti.
1870 Secretary of State Hamilton Fish organizes Department into nine bureaus, two agencies, one translator, and one telegrapher, sets office hours as 9:30 to 4:00.
1895 President Cleveland places most consular positions on merit system.
1909 President Taft extends merit system to all diplomatic positions below rank of minister, creates board of examiners, prohibits consideration of political affiliation of candidates.
1918 American Consular Association formed.
1922 Lucile Atcherson is first woman appointed to diplomatic service.
1924 Rogers Act unifies diplomatic and consular services, creates Foreign Service of the United States. Merit system for all appointments and promotions. Regulates promotions, transfers, allowances, inspection, leave, assignment to Department.
1924 American Consular Association reconstitutes itself as the American Foreign Service Association “for the purpose of fostering an esprit de corps” among Foreign Service employees. American Consular Bulletin (1919) becomes American Foreign Service Journal.
1927 Foreign Commerce Service established by Act of Congress.
1929 Foreign Service clerks and non-career vice consuls at American Embassy Paris form Local 349 of National Federation of Federal Employees, called the Foreign Service Local.
1929 Elizabeth Harriman gives AFSA $25,000 to establish a scholarship fund in honor of her late son Oliver, a Foreign Service officer.
1930 Foreign Agricultural Service established by Act of Congress.
1931 Moses-Linthicum Act regulates Foreign Service ranks, retirement.
1933 First appointment of a woman as chief of mission (Ruth Bryan Owen, Minister to Denmark).
1933 Secretary Hull unveils AFSA’s Roll of Honor, a memorial plaque in State-War-Navy building (now Eisenhower Executive Office Building) honoring “those in the American Foreign Service who … have died under tragic or heroic circumstances.” Plaque has seventeen names.
1933 First AFSA Scholarship awarded.
1939 Congress closes Foreign Commerce and Agricultural Services as austerity measure, transfers functions to State Department and personnel to Foreign Service.
1941 Department suspends recruitment into regular Foreign Service. Act of Congress creates Foreign Service Auxiliary, which outnumbers regular Foreign Service by end of the war.
1945 Functions and personnel of Office of War Information (propaganda) and Office of Strategic Services (intelligence operations) transferred to Department of State.
1946 Manpower Act allows lateral entry of 250 officers into Foreign Service, despite AFSA objections.
1946 Foreign Service Act of 1946 replaces Rogers Act. Abolishes Foreign Service Auxiliary, creates Foreign Service Staff Officers (FSSO) and Foreign Service Reserve Officers (FSRO), provides detailed regulation of personnel management, compensation, allowances. AFSA admits staff and reserve to active membership.
1947 National Security Act creates National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency. Intelligence function passes from State to CIA.
1947 Hoover Commission on Reorganization of the Executive Branch recommends merging Foreign Service and Civil Service in State Department, to correct “cancerous cleavage.”
1950-1953 McCarthy era: State Department fires more than 500 employees as security risks.
1951 American Foreign Service Journal is renamed Foreign Service Journal.
1951 AFSA replaces executive committee with board of directors, chosen annually by electoral college of eighteen members. AFSA has about 2,000 active and 500 associate members out of a pool of 12,000 eligibles.
1953 Congress restores the Foreign Agricultural Service in the Department of Agriculture.
1953 Congress creates U.S. Information Agency. Press and information functions, cultural diplomacy, and international exchange programs pass from State to USIA.
1954 Administrative action (“Wristonization”) opens Foreign Service to about 1,500 Civil Service employees in Department of State, opens like number of Civil Service jobs in State to Foreign Service employees.
1955 International Cooperation Agency created within Department of State.
1956 Junior FSOs form Junior Foreign Service Officers Club (JFSOC).
1961 International Cooperation Agency becomes Agency for International Development.
1962 Executive Order 10988 (Kennedy) establishes right of federal employees to unionize.
1964 AFSA establishes Committee on Career Principles
1965 AFSA, DACOR, and Department organize first Foreign Service Day, to promote exchanges among career diplomats, academicians, journalists, businessmen.
1965 AFSA and Department back Hays bill to bring nearly all employees of State, AID, and USIA into a single personnel system. Bill passes House, fails in Senate.
1967 AFSA buys building at 2101 E Street NW in Washington, D.C.
1967 AFSA elections give reformist “Young Turks” all eighteen seats in electoral college. Reform board led by Lannon Walker and Charlie Bray takes control of AFSA.
1968 New board publishes Toward a Modern Diplomacy, 185-page manifesto based on report of Committee on Career Principles and calling for unified Foreign Service in State, USIA, AID, Commerce, and Labor, under independent Director General.
1969 AFSA sets up awards for constructive dissent, funded by donations from Harriman, Herter, and Rivkin families and named for the donors.
1969 Executive Order 11491 (Nixon) sets new rules for labor-management relations in federal government, State Department opposes their application to Foreign Service, eventually wins exemption from Federal Labor relations Council. AFSA debates whether to seek recognition as employee representative (union).
1970 Women’s Action Organization formed to address treatment of women in foreign affairs agencies.
1971 AFSA leadership and State management discuss what becomes Executive Order 11636, setting labor-management rules for Foreign Service. AFSA votes to seek recognition as Foreign Service union.
1971 FSO Alison Palmer files anti-discrimination suit against Department of State.
1972 State issues “Policy on Wives,” asserting that “the wife of a foreign service employee who is with her husband at a foreign post is an individual, not a government employee.”
1972 Bill Harrop, Tom Boyatt lead AFSA in contest with American Federation of Government Employees that centers on legal issue of who is labor, who is management.
1973 AFSA certified as winner in State, USIA, AID. New AFSA by-laws replace chairman and directors with governing board and president, effective 1974.
1973 Hundreds attend AFSA luncheon honoring China hands, Foreign Service officers purged as dissenters during McCarthy era.
1973 “Thursday Luncheon Group” of black officers in in foreign affairs agencies holds first meeting.
1974 Foreign Service personnel at AID brought into Foreign Service retirement system. Reduction in force at AID begins, will result in dismissal of hundreds of Foreign Service employees.
1976 AFSA membership votes to recall John Hemenway after nine months in office. Board chooses Pat Woodring, first woman president, to fill out term.
1976 Alison Palmer re-files suit against State as class-action suit, claiming discrimination against women in hiring, promotion, assignments. AFSA does not join.
1976 AFSA and management reach agreement on regulations to implement grievance legislation enacted after four-year battle.
1976 USIA rejects AFSA in favor of AFGE in second representation election.
1978 Congress passes Civil Service Reform Act, establishes Senior Executive Service.
1979 Teheran embassy seized, more than sixty Foreign Service and armed service members taken hostage.
1979 Commercial function and 129 overseas position transferred from State to Commerce, which establishes new Foreign Commercial Service.
1979 Legislation to replace Foreign Service Act of 1946 introduced.
1980 New Foreign Service Act regulates appointments, compensation, classification of positions and assignments, promotion and retention, training, career development, retirement and disability, travel, leave, benefits, labor-management relations, personnel grievances, relations with other agencies. Establishes Senior Foreign Service.
1981 Teheran hostages released on inauguration day.
1982 Mary Harriman Foundation funds new Avis Bohlen award to honor Foreign Service family member who has done most to advance US interests.
1983 Despite opposition from AFSA and other unions, Congress brings new federal employees into Social Security System.
1983 Terrorist attacks on American embassies in Beirut and Kuwait inflict heavy loss of life.
1983 Department of State funds AFSA presidency as full time position.
1983 AFSA establishes Legislative Action Fund.
1985 New by-laws provide for an AFSA vice president from each constituency.
1985 African-American Foreign Service employees bring anti-discrimination suit against Department of State.
1986 Foreign-affairs budgets enter period of austerity that will last until 2001.
1987 Senior positions in Department of State cut by about 130. Thirteen consulates closed.
1989 AFSA establishes program of conferences with senior Foreign Service officers, to attract international businesses to become paying “International Associates.”
1989 Court decisions favor plaintiffs in women’s class-action suit filed in 1976.
1992 AFSA wins election challenge to AFGE’s representation of Foreign Service in USIA.
1992 Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) established.
1994 AFSA wins uncontested representation elections in the Foreign Agricultural Service and the Foreign Commercial Service.
1995 AFSA joins AFGE in State-AID-USIA rally protesting government shutdown and furlough.
1996 Court decision favors plaintiffs in African-American suit against State Department filed in 1986.
1996 AFSA publishes Inside a U.S. Embassy.
1997 Department of State employs about 7,000 Foreign Service members, compared to about 8,000 in 1992. More than half of decline is in ranks of specialists.
1998 Al Qaeda attacks on American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam kill more than two hundred.
1999 AFSA conducts first annual high school essay contest.
1999 Act of Congress closes USIA, transfers personnel and functions to Department of State. Broadcasting Board of Governors remains outside State, keeps AFSA representation.
1999 AFSA engages in high-profile fight against assignment of State Department civil service employee to deputy chief of mission position on which qualified Foreign Service officers had bid. Grievance board sides with AFSA, but secretary of state overrules, citing foreign policy grounds.
2000 Delavan Foundation funds Tex Harris award to specialist for construction dissent.
2001 Secretary Colin Powell launches diplomatic readiness initiative, adding 1049 Foreign Service and 200 Civil Service positions in Department of State over three years.
2001 AFSA objects as Secretary Powell changes Foreign Service Day to Foreign Affairs Day, renames Foreign Service Lounge as Employee Service Center, changes Foreign Service Star to Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service.
2001 September 11 attacks bring surge of applications for Foreign Service exam.
2002 AFSA PAC political action committee formed with approval of AFSA board.
2003 AFSA publishes an all-new edition of Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America.
2005 National Security Decision Directive 44 assigns State Department lead responsibility for contingency operations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2005 AFSA publishes a revised edition of Inside a U.S. Embassy.
2007 AFSA begins renovation of headquarters building.
2009 Launch of Diplomacy 3.0 hiring initiative to increase funding and positions in State and AID.
2009 AFSA establishes the Foreign Service Books imprint.
2011 Publication of first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR)
2011 AFSA’s FSBooks publishes an all-new third edition of Inside a U.S. Embassy, with the subhead Diplomacy at Work.
2013 AFSA wins uncontested representation election for Foreign Service employees of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at USDA.