The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2013

44 JULY-AUGUST 2013 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL FEATURE FS HERITAGE LUCILE ATCHERSON CURTIS: THE FIRST FEMALE U.S. DIPLOMAT In 1922, the first female permitted to take the Foreign Service exam passed with the third-highest score that year. But it was only the first of many hurdles she faced. BY MOL LY M . WOOD A s late as 1924, State Department officials charged with recruiting, examining and evaluating appli- cants to the U.S. Foreign Service remained convinced that women were “not fitted to discharge the exacting and peculiar duties of a Foreign Service officer.” 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 officials allowed a small number of women to take the Foreign Service examination. Lucile Atcherson was the first to pass both the written and oral exams. On Dec. 5, 1922, the U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment, and she was assigned to the State Department’s Latin American Division in Washington, D.C. Early Life, Education and Woman Suffrage Atcherson was born in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 11, 1894. She attended the prestigious Columbus School for Girls and finished her course of study at the age of 14. One of the head- mistresses at the Columbus School suggested that she attend