The Foreign Service Journal, April 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | APRIL 2022 47 just beginning, and fears of Soviet nuclear and ideological threats globally and to the United States deepened. For women like Jeannette, this environment, precarious as it appeared, was an opportunity but not without dangers. She ventured outside the norm of women’s roles of the era and served her country abroad, but she died prematurely during her third Foreign Service tour, in Egypt. Hoping to understand more about Jeannette’s life and death in Cairo, surviving family members, including her sister, another military veteran, approached the State Department. The consular section in Cairo helped find Jeannette’s missing Consular Report of Death Abroad, and her family was finally able to confirm the circum- stances of her death. Recently, Jeannette’s name was added to the Virtual AFSA Memorial Plaque ( plaque) to honor her service. For U.S. Embassy Cairo, Jeannette’s family introduced present-day Foreign Services members to the life of a remarkable trailblazer for women officers. An Unconventional Path When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation on July 1, 1943, that created the Women’s Army Corps, Jean- nette Lafrance was working at the International Shoe Company in Rhode Island. A month later, she enlisted, joining her two brothers who were also serving in the U.S. armed forces. Thanks to this legislation, she was conferred the same ranks, privileges and benefits as her brothers. She would serve honorably first as a recruiter and then as a traffic analyst—a decoder—in the cam- paign for New Guinea and South Philippines. The army deco- rated her with a World War II Victory Medal and the Philippine Liberation Campaign Medal with one bronze service star, among other honors. After the war, Jeannette returned home to work in the shoe factory once again but had already set her sights on new ways to continue her unconventional path. In her application to the Department of State, she wrote that she wanted to “travel constantly,” especially to Europe and China, and was particularly skilled at record keeping and using an “adding machine.” Among the first women to apply following World War II, she was ultimately appointed to the Foreign Service in the secretarial ranks on Dec. 12, 1946. She would first serve in War- saw in 1947, followed by Lima in 1949, and then Cairo in 1952. In 1946 there were very few women in the Foreign Service. The first, Lucile Atcherson, had been admitted in 1922, and as required by the Department of State until 1971, she was forced to resign when she married just five years later. There had not yet been a woman holding the rank of ambassador when Jeannette joined. Blacks and whites were segregated in State Department dining facilities in Washington, even as Ralph J. Bunche led Arab-Israeli peace negotiations in the Middle East. These realities did not deter Jean- nette. Her sister, Alice, remembers she made her decisions confidently and with conviction, and throughout her years of service, Jeannette’s evaluators noted that she regarded the Foreign Service as a career, even while recalling that she was “philosophic about its ups and downs.” Her pursuit of a Foreign Service life meant she could not marry and remain in the diplomatic corps, but she appears to have accepted this. After all, her family recalls, when one of Jeannette’s boyfriends threatened to break up with her if she joined the army, off she went and enlisted anyway. Clearly, as a woman on her own in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in male-dominated organizations, seeking an adventurous life, Jeannette knew her own worth despite the restrictions on pro- fessional women of the time. The photos, letters and documents from Jeannette’s life will be familiar to the contemporary diplomat as well as eyebrow- raising reminders of how society has changed. Her evaluations reflected the then-common view that a diplomat’s success was determined not only by the quality of their professional work. Jeannette’s first review in Warsaw determined that she “is neat and well dressed ... has a pleasant personality” and openly discussed her lingering malaria and its impact on her profes- Jeannette and her brother Paul Lafrance Sr., of the Coast Guard, in the South Pacific. COURTESYOFTHELAFRANCEFAMILY