For International Women’s Day, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has produced a series of portraits of women from French and European diplomacy from the 18th century to today, illustrating their changing roles over the years.
Maria-Theresa of Austria, at the center of 18th century power
A first article focuses on the 18th century in company of Elisabeth Badinter. At this time, women were not allowed to hold the official role of ambassador of a country. This did not, however, stop them from taking part in diplomatic negotiations, whether officially, like the Sovereign Maria-Theresa of Austria, or unofficially through networks of friends and family.
It was not until the early 20th century that women made their official entry into diplomacy. The first female ambassador was Russian. It was Alexandra Kollontai who was called to represent the USSR in Norway in 1923.
Suzanne Borel, the trailblazer
In France, progress came gradually. In 1914, the only women working at the Foreign Ministry were a few typists. In 1928, women became eligible to take the competitive recruitment exam (concours), but with two restrictions: they could not be posted abroad, and could not work in all directorates. A second article helps us to discover Suzanne Borel, the first woman to pass the competitive recruitment exam in 1930 and become a diplomat.
The arrival of women to the highest-ranking positions
A third article talks about the arrival of women to the highest ranking positions. This happened on two different dates: in 1972, Marcelle Campana was named Ambassador to Panama, then in 1986, Isabelle Renouard became the first female director in the central administration.