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Abroad for Her Country

Tales of a Pioneer Woman Ambassador in the U.S. Foreign Service

Jean M. Wilkowski

Publication Year: 2008

In Abroad for Her Country, Jean M. Wilkowski shares the story of her extraordinary career in the U.S. Foreign Service during the last half of the twentieth century. Born in an era when few women sought professional careers, Wilkowski graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and the University of Wisconsin and then rose through the ranks at the Department of State, from Vice Consul to the first woman U.S. Ambassador to an African country and the first woman acting U.S. Ambassador in Latin America. During her thirty-five-year diplomatic career, Wilkowski was sent first as a vice consul to the Caribbean during World War II, when the Department of State was “even taking in 4-Fs and women.” She moved on to more challenging assignments in Latin America and Europe. For much of her career, she specialized in protecting and promoting U.S. trade and investment interests in such posts as Paris, Milan, Rome, Santiago, and Geneva. She also served during a revolution in Bogotá, attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and the war between El Salvador and Honduras, when she called in U.S. humanitarian aid for 50,000 war-displaced persons. In 1977 she became coordinator of the U.S. preparation for the 1979 United Nations Conference on Science and Technology in Vienna. She worked closely with Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh, head of the U.S. delegation, and accompanied the delegation on its fact-finding visit to the Peoples’ Republic of China.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

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pp. ix-xii

The following thoughts are said to have been drafted by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, and first spoken by John Cardinal Dearden of Detroit, though they are often incorrectly attributed to Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. These words have become...

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Early Years, 1926– 44

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pp. 3-17

Who would have thought that a young girl born in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, in the early part of the twentieth century, the tallest in her class and always in the back row so the other children could see the teacher, would become a United States ambassador and travel around the world? Never,in my wildest dreams while growing up did I have any such aspirations....

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Trinidad, BWI, 1944–46 (Vice Consul)

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pp. 18-43

As I prepared to take off for my first Foreign Service post, I was strangely reminded of the time my mother drove me off to first grade! Nearly two decades later, here she was driving me from our apartment in Miam iBeach over the Causeway on Biscayne Bay to the Miami International Air-port to put me on a plane for an overseas government job. Just as she...

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Bogotá, Colombia, 1947–48 (Third Secretary—Economic)

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pp. 44-70

I accepted a freebie military plane ride back from Trinidad to the United States aboard an Army hurricane reconnaissance plane. The flight would be mapping the winds from the extreme southeastern Caribbean up to the east coast of Florida, and it sounded like much more fun than returning by commercial airline. The Department of State granted my request...

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Milan, Italy, 1949–51 (Vice Consul)

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pp. 71-98

Having left Bogotá some months short of a full tour because of health problems, I returned to Washington for a full medical checkup, rest, and recuperation. It took less time than I’d feared, and before long I received My new posting was to Milan, Italy’s financial and commercial capital,which fit well with the training and professional experience I had gained...

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Paris, France, 1953–56 (Deputy Commercial Attaché)

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pp. 99-131

I was assigned to Paris in 1953, when the U.S. government still used ocean liners to transfer Foreign Service personnel to their posts. We were encouraged to take American flag carriers but could also use foreign registry ships. Thus, I gained a head start on my French experience with a fantastic ocean voyage on the Ile de France from New York to Le Havre, followed...

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Santiago, Chile, 1957–59 (Second Secretary)

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pp. 132-150

As is often the case in Foreign Service rotations, which take account of language and area experience, I was transferred from Europe back to Latin America—from Paris, France, to Santiago, Chile—just as I had been earlier from Bogotá, Colombia, to Milan, Italy. Given my Spanish language proficiency, I had no need for further training at the Foreign Service Institute...

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Interim Assignments: GATT Tariff Negotiations, 1960–61; Senior Seminar, 1962–63; Diplomat in Residence in California, 1976– 77

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pp. 151-171

Personnel assignments are never easy in the Foreign Service, either for the administrators making the decisions and issuing the orders or for the assigned officers, with their questions and doubts as to where and how they will be spending the next three to four years of their lives. The process does have some virtues: personnel panels making the...

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Rome, Italy, 1963–66 (Second Secretary), 1969–72 (Commercial Counselor; Minister/Counselor for Economic Affairs)

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pp. 172-200

Because I learned to speak Italian in Milan in the early 1950s, it seemed only logical for the Department of State to make the most of its investment in human resources and assign me back to the only fully Italian-speaking country in the world—Italy. Memories of my two tours in Rome...

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Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 1966–69 (Deputy Chief of Mission; Chargé d’Affaires a.i.)

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pp. 201-233

As my first assignment to Rome in the mid-1960s ended abruptly with the death of my mother, who had been my in-residence dependent for ten years, the Department of State was at its sympathetic best with my next assignment. I was transferred to a different continent, a different language,and a leadership responsibility that became a turning point in my career—...

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Lusaka, Zambia, 1972–76 (U.S. Ambassador, Chief of Mission)

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pp. 234-299

Late one afternoon, about an hour before closing, during my second posting to Rome, the phone on my desk rang. “Washington calling,” the embassy operator said. Then, “Is that you, Jean? This is Cleo Noel in Washington. How would you like to go to Zambia?”...

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To State and the United Nations, 1977–80 (Father Ted, China, and Vienna)

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pp. 300-318

Toward the end of my academic year at Oxy, I received a phone call from Ambassador Carol Laise, then director general of the Foreign Service. “How would you like to work with Father Theodore Hesburgh of the University of Notre Dame?” she inquired, adding, “The President [Jimmy Carter] has just appointed Hesburgh to head up the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development,...

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Later Years, 1980– 2000

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pp. 319-339

With the Vienna conference over, my three-year stint in multilateral diplomacy with the United Nations was completed. So I made an appointment with the director general of the Foreign Service, Ambassador Harry Barnes, to see what my next assignment might be. The morning I called at his office, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Congress had voted to...


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pp. 340


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pp. 341-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780268096571
E-ISBN-10: 0268096570
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268044138
Print-ISBN-10: 0268044139

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: Images removed; no digital rights.
Publication Year: 2008

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Subject Headings

  • Wilkowski, Jean M., 1919-.
  • Ambassadors -- United States -- Biography.
  • Women ambassadors -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1945-1989.
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