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The quiet diplomats: American diplomatic wives and public diplomacy in the Cold War, 1945-1972

Penler, Alexandra (2023) The quiet diplomats: American diplomatic wives and public diplomacy in the Cold War, 1945-1972. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004615


The Quiet Diplomats: American Diplomatic Wives and Public Diplomacy in the Cold War, 1945-1972, illustrates how much of the unpaid work diplomatic wives did between 1945- 1972 can be re-categorised as instruments of public diplomacy – a growing field today. Drawing on archival research and oral histories, this thesis reveals how American diplomatic wives were able to actively participate in public diplomacy during the Cold War because of the soft power nature of the Cold War and changing gender roles in the post-war period which gave women and everyday citizens opportunities to engage in diplomacy. It reveals the ways in which the State Department encouraged this work for decades through informal policies and techniques such as training courses. The State Department relied on the unpaid labour of diplomatic wives, while a common joke on Capitol Hill and in the Department regarding the overseas posting of married male diplomats was “two for the price of one,” a tag which many wives either embraced or resented. Diplomatic wives engaged in public diplomacy through activities which included representational entertaining and advocacy; listening and information gathering; cultural diplomacy; educational exchange; and health diplomacy and humanitarian aid. They became conduits of soft power while representing the US in foreign postings. Through the era reviewed, the wives’ roles changed as society became more accepting of working women including wives and mothers. Until 1971, diplomatic wives were assessed by the State Department as part of their husband’s performance evaluations, and it was not until 1972 that diplomatic wives were considered private citizens. While their function was debated through the rest of the 1970s and the 1980s, this PhD thesis will show that diplomatic wives played a vital but unacknowledged role in American foreign relations during the Cold War.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2023 Alexandra Penler
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
E History America > E151 United States (General)
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Jones, Matthew and Umorean, Imaobong

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