The AAFSW Oral History program began to capture for the historical record the experiences of Foreign Service spouses during the 20th century. The changes they witnessed were enormous; for instance, getting to post could take a month in some cases. The AAFSW worked with the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) to include spouse interviews to be distributed electronically worldwide as the Foreign Service Spouse Series of the ADST Oral History Collection.
The program began unofficially in the Spring of 1986 when my colleague Pamela Burdick met with Don Ritchie and the spouse Oral History was really conceived over bowls of bean soup, the famous Senate Navy bean soup on that brisk spring day. Had we known at that point what we were in for, I’m not sure we would have gone ahead. We were starting from zero. We were two Foreign Service wives that lived the experience. We were not academics; we had no oral history background or experience. We were starting from zero. When we met with Don Ritchie that day, and he advised us to seek institutional backing and raise funds, train a corps of interviewers, develop an interviewing methodology and establish our interview universe, we probably should have said, thank you very much and folded our tents immediately. But we scribbled notes furiously and went ahead totally oblivious of the work to come.Jewell Fenzi, ADST interview excerpt, time stamp 0:20-01:26
AAFSW Newsletter – Nov. 1986: Announcement of Oral History ArchivesS017_03_1986_Nov_Oral-History_AAFSW-Newsletter
Why did we set out to do the Foreign Service Spouse Oral History? My personal goal was to create more awareness of the role of the Foreign Service spouse, if possible, to create compensation for the work that Foreign Service spouses do abroad. And in a larger context, there has been no history of the Foreign Service spouse, her contributions to Foreign Affairs over the centuries since Abigail Adams went to Paris in 1784 as the wife of the Joint Commissioner to the Court of France, John Adams, of course who was later our second President.
A compelling reason to do the program was because we were the best qualified women, people to record the spouse history of the 20th century because we had lived part of the story.Jewell Fenzi, ADST interview excerpt, time stamp 03:00-04:00
AAFSW Newsletter – Sept. 1988: Oral History ProjectS017_04_1988_Sept_Oral-History_AAFSW-Newsletter
Learn more by visiting:
Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) → https://www.adst.org/oral-history/
Library of Congress – “Frontline Diplomacy: The Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training” → https://loc.gov/collections/foreign-affairs-oral-history/about-this-collection/