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Informal Ambassadors

American Women, Transatlantic Marriages, and Anglo-American Relations, 1865-1945

Dana Cooper

Publication Year: 2014

From 1865 to 1945, a number of prominent marriages united American heiresses and members of the British aristocracy. In Informal Ambassadors, author Dana Cooper examines the lives and marriages of the American-born, British-wed Lady Jennie Jerome Churchill, Mary Endicott Chamberlain, Vicereine Mary Leiter Curzon, Duchess Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, and Lady Nancy Astor. This cohort of women surprised their families—both British and American—by exhibiting an extraordinary degree of agency in a period that placed women solidly outside the boundaries of politics and diplomacy.

Without the formal title of diplomat or membership in Parliament, these women nonetheless exerted significant influence in the male-dominated arena of foreign affairs and international politics. As the wives of leading members of the British aristocracy, they had uncompromised and unlimited access to the eyes and ears of individuals at the highest level in Great Britain—the very decision makers who formulated and implemented foreign policy with their home country. Collectively and individually, these informal ambassadors worked to improve relations at the turn of the twentieth century, and by no coincidence, the United States and Great Britain began to view one another less as adversaries and more as allies.

Combining diplomatic history with gender and women’s history, Informal Ambassadors demonstrates not only that could women act as transnational envoys at a time when they could not apply for State Department employment but that they influenced Anglo-American relations to a degree never before considered by historians.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Series: New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations Series


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Title page, Series page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. xi-xiv

Over a decade has passed since I first discovered transatlantic marriages as a master’s student in the dusty plains of West Texas. Throughout the researching and writing process, I have been, and continue to be, rewarded with amazing life—first as a scholar, now as a wife, mother, and professor in the Piney Woods...


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pp. xv-xx

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Introduction: An Extraordinary Galaxy of American Women

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pp. 1-16

The position of women within the field of diplomacy has changed significantly in recent years. Three recent U.S. secretaries of state—Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Rodham Clinton—have been women. As evidence of the last’s worldwide influence, the so-called Hillary effect has been cited as opening...

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1. Courting Transatlantic Marriages

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pp. 17-40

Before American women began marrying into the highest poli-social circles in Britain in the latter nineteenth century, a host of factors laid the groundwork to make such unions desirable for both parties; thus, the courtship of such marriages is rooted in historical events neither country could have ever predicted. Although...

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2. Amazon Attachè: Jennie Jerome Churchill

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pp. 41-67

The large majority of American women who married British aristocrats in this period hailed from New York City; in fact, the woman who often receives credit for serving as the pioneer in the Anglo-American marital market called Brooklyn home.1 Born on January 9, 1854, Jennie Jerome was the second daughter of Leonard...

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3. Drawing-Room Diplomat: Mary Endicott Chamberlain Carnegie

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pp. 68-90

In the fall of 1933, Mary Endicott Chamberlain Carnegie informed her “beloved Miss May” that she had recently returned home and “during that week saw all my families.”1 Such a simple statement fails to reveal the sheer magnitude of the word “families” within the context of Mary’s remarkable Anglo-American life. Following...

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4. Devoted Mediator: Mary Leiter Curzon

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pp. 91-122

Shortly before the marriage of Mary Leiter and George Curzon in 1895, the St. James’s Gazette published “some notes on the bride and bridegroom.” The brief article predicted that Mary would be “a beautiful and charming wife” and that “London society [would] be reinforced by [such] a clever and attractive woman...

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5. Elegant Envoy: Consuelo Vanderbilt Marlborough Balsan

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pp. 123-150

As the nineteenth century came to a close, Great Britain and the United States teetered on the brink of war. While Anglo-Americans looked to Lady Churchill, the British colonial secretary’s wife, and the vicereine of India to calm fears on both sides of the Atlantic in the midst of the Venezuelan boundary crisis...

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6. Candid Consul: Nancy Langhorne Shaw Astor

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pp. 151-177

Just as Consuelo Vanderbilt’s high-profile life in England came to an end in 1920, one of the final American-born, British-wed women had just begun to make her impression on Great Britain. Lady Nancy Astor, wife of William Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor, and the first woman to take a seat in the House of Commons...

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7. The American Invasion

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pp. 178-190

Transatlantic marriages, and the informal ambassadorships that resulted from them, began in earnest in the 1870s, after the union of Lord Randolph Churchill and Jennie Jerome. Often regarded as the pioneer in the Anglo-American marital market, Lady Churchill married into the British aristocracy when the American...

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Conclusion: Ambassadors by Any Name

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pp. 191-195

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, significant numbers of American heiresses married British aristocrats. As a result of these marriages, young women largely left their American families and national identities behind when they took the title of lady or duchess. By virtue of her marriage and position...


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pp. 196-202


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pp. 203-238


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pp. 239-250


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pp. 251-260

Back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781612778365
E-ISBN-10: 1612778364
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606352144

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations Series
Series Editor Byline: Mary Ann Heiss See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 888316217
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Informal Ambassadors

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Great Britain.
  • Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • Politicians' spouses -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Politicians' spouses -- Great Britain -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women -- Political activity -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women -- Political activity -- Great Britain -- History -- 20th century.
  • Aristocracy (Social class) -- Great Britain -- Biography.
  • Americans -- Great Britain -- Biography.
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