341. Airgram From the Department of State to All Posts1


Subject: Policy on Wives of Foreign Service Employees. The Department believes that the tradition of husband and wife teams and of wives’ participation in the representational activities of a post has been one of the major strengths of the Foreign Service. It is convinced that the great majority of married couples in the Foreign Service have welcomed this unique opportunity to work together and to contribute together towards the attainment of the objectives of the Service and of the U.S. Government.

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If this tradition is to continue and be strengthened there must be a recognition that participation by a Foreign Service wife in the work of a post is a voluntary act of a private person, not a legal obligation which can be imposed by any Foreign Service official or his wife.

From its inception under Jefferson and Franklin, a basic principle of American diplomatic practice has been that our style of diplomacy must be representative of our way of life. In the past few years, rapid changes in American society have provided wider roles for women than were traditionally available. Women have gained increasing recognition of their right to be treated as individuals and to have personal and career interests in addition to their more traditional roles as wife or mother. If the Foreign Service is to remain representative of American society, and if its traditions are to be preserved and strengthened, the Foreign Service must adapt to these changing conditions. Recently these changes in American society have resulted in a growing attention to the role of a Foreign Service wife abroad. To some extent, this has been heightened by occasional but serious abuses in which requirements have been levied on some wives which are today considered unnecessary and demeaning.

The attached policy statement is designed to eliminate these occasional abuses which have occured in the past, and more importantly to permit wives to choose for themselves the roles they wish to follow. It is not intended to undermine the sense of cooperation, participation and community spirit abroad or the tradition of response by Foreign Service communities to special and emergency situations which arise. On the contrary, the Department believes that emphasizing the voluntary nature of wives’ contributions will strengthen and enhance the traditions of cooperation and common purpose which have characterized Foreign Service life.

It should also be emphasized that this policy statement is in no way intended to criticize the past actions of any group of employees or their dependents, nor is it designed to pass judgment on the relative merits of various roles which Foreign Service wives may wish to play. The Foreign Service can benefit when wives follow the traditional role of Foreign Service wives, but it also can benefit when wives pursue other interests, be they academic, professional, family or avocational which are not in conflict with the appropriate conduct of diplomats in a foreign country.

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The following is U.S. Government policy regarding wives of Foreign Service employees. This policy applies as well to male spouses and other dependents of Foreign Service employees. Copies of this instruction should be made available to all employees and their dependents. Ambassadors and Principal officers are asked to insure that this policy is observed and that all concerned understand the voluntary character of wives’ participation on which it rests:

The wife of a Foreign Service employee who has accompanied her husband to a foreign post is a private individual; she is not a Government employee. The Foreign Service, therefore, has no right to levy any duties upon her. It can only require that she comport herself in a manner which will not reflect discredit on the United States.
Foreign Service Officers have broadly defined representational responsibilities overseas. These are an integral part of their job, and they are expected to lead generally active social lives. An officer is not relieved of such responsibilities if his wife chooses not to assist him in carrying them out. However, the U.S. Government has no right to insist that a wife assume representational burdens. Each wife must decide the extent to which she wants to participate as a partner in this aspect of her husband’s job. She is free to follow her own interests (subject only to the laws and regulations of the host country and the U.S. Government).

Many wives may want to engage abroad, as they do at home, in charitable activities. In doing so they not only help others less fortunate than themselves, but often contribute favorably to the image of the U.S. abroad. However, a wife’s participation in charitable activities must be truly voluntary. Which particular charity, if any, and the extent of her involvement is a decision for the wife alone to make.

This applies also to wives’ participation in activities such as binational organizations, clubs and “in-house” social gatherings which are often worthwhile, contribute to morale and the effective functioning of the post, and thus benefit the Foreign Service. Many wives enjoy these activities, provided they are not viewed as requirements. Some do not and are not required to engage in them.

Although membership in a diplomatic community and the requirements of protocol inevitably involve considerations of rank and precedence in dealing with people outside the post, this does not grant to any wife authority over, or responsibility for, the wives of other employees. The American tradition of neighborliness, personal courtesy and mutual concern is the appropriate way to be helpful and friendly without assuming a superior-subordinate relationship.
Mention of wives’ participation or lack thereof in the types of activities discussed in this instruction may not be made in performance evaluation reports, Inspectors’ efficiency reports, or training evaluations. [Page 760] Every rating and reviewing officer has the responsibility of insuring that employees’ ratings are not affected by such considerations. However, should violations of this policy occur, remedial action will be taken.2
The Department, USIA, and AID are instituting careful review of their regulations and guidelines to insure that they conform with these principles. Posts are instructed to review their own programs and guidelines to insure conformity with this instruction. These Agencies are confident that this policy statement will receive the support and cooperation of all concerned. If violations do occur, every effort should be made to resolve them at post. However, if after such an effort is made, they cannot be resolved in the field, they should be brought to the attention of the Director General for the Department of State, Office of Personnel and Manpower for AID, and the Assistant Director for Personnel and Training for USIA. Complaints of abuse will be handled on a confidential basis.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, PER 1. Joint message from State, AID, and USIA. Drafted on January 12 by the Open Forum Panel, Macomber, Hillenbrand, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs David Newsom, and Director General of the Foreign Service William Hall, concurred in by USIA and AID, and approved by Macomber. Unclassified.
  2. In a June 20 memorandum to Macomber’s Special Assistant, Robert Stevens, Olmsted questioned a recent note by Steven stating that comments on the performance of a Foreign Service officer’s wife contained in a memorandum (not in the performance evaluation report itself) could be placed in an FSO’s performance dossier. Olmsted called the practice “a travesty” on the official policy. (Ibid., Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Management, Management Reform Task Force Papers: Lot 74 D 394) In a June 26 memorandum to Macomber, Steven noted that during sessions with the Open Forum it was explicitly agreed that informal memoranda and letters concerning wives could appear in the official performance folders that went before selection panels, but in hindsight he thought Olmsted was probably right. He proposed a prohibition on all references to wives’ activities, informal as well as formal, in official performance files, but Macomber did not sign and send forward a memorandum implementing the new policy. (Ibid.)