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History professor examines the role of gender in U.S. Foreign Service

January 4, 2012

MEDIA CONTACT: Hilary Dickinson at or 608-363-2849 

Beatrice McKenzie’s latest project focuses on one of the first women to enter the U.S. Foreign Service. Given that McKenzie herself spent part of her career in foreign service, it’s an area of particular interest to the assistant professor of history.

The project, which focuses on the connections between gender and consular work in the U.S. Foreign Service, examines the case of Constance Harvey, the first female U.S. Foreign Service officer who served from 1929 to 1964 and held the post as Consul General in Strasbourg, France, from 1959-64.

McKenzie finds Harvey’s case particularly compelling because she was one of six women who passed the U.S. Foreign Service exam between 1921 and 1929 (none passed before 1921 or between 1929 and 1947). Until 1972, women officers were also required to resign upon marrying, leaving only Harvey and one other woman in the office. Harvey was not accepted as a full officer until 1947.

A notable moment in Harvey’s career was during World War II when she got a man who worked for her released after he was arrested and put on a train to a concentration camp. McKenzie argues that his release was a result of Harvey’s skills as a diplomat, and presented this part of her research at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations last June.

Research for this project has taken McKenzie to the National Archives in Washington D.C., the Smith College archives in Northampton, Mass., and the library of Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. McKenzie plans to return to the National Archives, as well as visit Columbia University to continue her research.

McKenzie’s interest in gender’s connection to consular work is, in part, spurred by her personal experience as a Foreign Service officer in her first career. During her service in Uganda in the 1990s, she met a deathly ill, expatriated American woman who wanted to return to the U.S. with her two children.

“Though she’d been born in the U.S., she had Ugandan, not American citizenship. What was it about her that made me so sure she was American? What if she had been a person of color, or a man or a naturalized citizen? My predecessor, a man, had not found her case compelling,” McKenzie says. “One of the reasons she was able to become a citizen was because someone believed she was. It also reminded me how important citizenship is for mobility and crossing borders.  I could see how important gender, race, and, in this case, motherhood, were to citizenship. That’s why I chose to study U.S. birthright citizenship for my dissertation.”

Source: Beatrice McKenzie is an assistant professor of history. She teaches U.S. Nationalism and Internationalism (1861-1945 and 1945-present), Citizenship, U.S. Immigration History, and U.S. Women, Citizenship, and Diplomacy. Her first book manuscript, under review by an academic press, is American at Birth: a History of U.S. Birthright Citizenship Policy, 1865-2001.  McKenzie previously worked as a Foreign Service officer in Uganda and Hong Kong. She also was a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso. McKenzie can serve as a media contact on topics related to her research and teaching.