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The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training
Foreign Affairs Oral History Project
Foreign Service Spouse Series
FRANCES MCSTAY ADAMS
Interviewed by: Jewell Fenzi
Initial interview date: April 17, 1991
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Awakening interest in womens issues
University of Minnesota, B.A. 1936
PR work for fraternities
Mothers remarriage ends in divorce
Justice for working people
Leo Burnett Advertising Agency
Move to Washington D.C. meets Esther Peterson and Eleanor Roosevelt
Americans for Democratic Action
Freelance work in radio
General Motors strike as volunteer PR person
ADA organizing committee
Childcare arrangements during this period
Lifelong ADA friends
Goes to work when first child is 9 months old
Work on Latin America for Rockefeller
President Roosevelts interest
More development of skills, knowledge of activities in various countries
Interest and activities in civil rights dating to 1942
Civil rights activities through ADA and DC
Coordinating groups for Home Rule and Civil Rights
How much earlier various movements started than most people realize
Husband flunked FS exam while a graduate student
Husband enters State Dept., later passes exam and is assigned to Quito
Familys losses in World War II
Shortwave radio rebroadcasts in Quito to help sell the U.S. war effort
Develops radio and other types of programs built around child literacy and maternal and
Volunteers in child health programs
Not considered on a professional level
Experiences opposition to working from Embassy officer
Current employment situation for FS spouse
U.S. and Civil Rights Work
Returns to U.S.
Begins work on ADA organization and created ADA study trips abroad
Doris Foster, another FS spouse
Focus of ADA travel study groups on politics in England and other countries visited
Childcare on ADA study trips
Rheumatoid arthritis after birth of second son
Work in civil rights in late 1940s
Leadership discussion group at McLean Gardens with League of Women Voters
How FA got into the womens movement without consciously realizing she was part of a
movement as a working woman in the 1930s
1946-1950 in U.S. working with the Inter-American Education Foundation
Obstacles for professional women
Work and life in Washington during World War II
Housing in Washington
Cairo, Egypt 1950-1952
Move to Cairo and work on womens issues there
Cultural differences as these apply to women
Volunteer in literacy programs
Burning of Cairo, 1950
Not evacuated from Cairo
Director of Fulbright Program Cairo
Ambassador Caffery unsympathetic to womens issues
Cafferys instance on protocol
New Delhi, India 1952-1955
Move, under Ambassadors Bowles and Allen
Ambassador George Allen
Work on evaluation of U.S. films sent to India by USG
Republican vs. Democratic representation in ranks
Involvement with American Womens Club
Protocol incident at Ambassadors wifes tea
Mrs. Cafferys obsession with protocol
Becomes president of American Womens Club
Refugee situation as result of partition of India and Pakistan, 1948
Arrest in Kashmir
Earlier arrest of her husband in Ecuador
Founding of the American School in India
Researched various counties propaganda programs for the Rockefeller Committee in
Ability to capitalize on being from a different culture to help develop career
Social service work through American Womens Club in Great Britain
Incident of discrimination in American Womens Club
Institutes program of Embassy briefings for wives in London
Briefing programs enhance morale
Adlai Stevensons visit to India
Volunteers at BBC as writer and voice
Baghdad, Iraq 1963-1965
Iraqi coups and attempted coups around 1963
Jobs in Washington 1959-1963
Joins the Womens National Democratic Club
Iraqi womens lives and issues
Assisted writers and researchers who came to Iraq on research into lives of Iraqis
Divorce of Iraqi-American couples in Iraq
Iraqi coups gunfire in the streets
Indian Ambassador becomes good friend
Anti-Americanism in Iraq
Making friends among Iraqis
Amman, Jordan 1966-1967
Development of the Jordan Today program
Life and activities in Jordan
Studies of womens issues in Jordan
Education of women
Lahore, Pakistan 1967-1970
Volunteer activities at Consul Generals residence
Preparation of history of Lahore consulate and brochure on collection left by former CG
Back to the U.S.
Work on the UN International Decade for Women with Irene Tinker
Gets involved in womens organizations and works on womens issues for WNDC
Activities at WNDC (at time of interview in 1991)
Work on Seminar A Wake-up Call for Democrats
WNDC members participate in demonstrations on Womens Rights
Other WNDC activities
Bill Moyers speaks at WNDC
Discussion on behavior of congress
Womens voting power, issues of importance to women
Discussion of Doug Wilders prospects as candidate
Q: This is Jewell Fenzi interviewing Frances Adams at the Women's National Democratic Club
on Wednesday, April 17, 1991. I had planned to do a tape on the Foreign Service. However,
having read Frances's Curriculum Vitae this morning, I realized that her activities have been so
entwined that we will go back and forth between the Foreign Service and the Democratic Party.
My first question, because the answer doesn't appear in your biographical data, is, where did the
marvelous interest that has sustained you for years, your interest in women's issues,
humanitarian issues, civil rights, originate?
ADAMS: I was interested in a lot of these things when I was younger, when I was in college.
Q: So it was an interest that began in college.
ADAMS: Well it began actually long before that because my father died when I was six years
old. My brother was five; my sister four. You know I got terribly much involved. I did work my
way through college. My mother wasn't well, then lost everything during the Depression, every
piece of property. I always felt that my mother was having a terribly rough time. Anyway, I think
some of [my interests in women's issues] started there in the family with losing one's father and
seeing what happened as a result of death in the family and all these things. So I was always
interested and I worked on a lot on things that involved me with older people when I was quite
Q: I noticed he was a businessman but I could not read the name of the business.
ADAMS: Janney Semple Hill.
Q: And what did he make?
ADAMS: Well, they were a large company, one of the big distributors of hardware in the Middle
West. It's a big outfit in Minneapolis. I'm sure there are many more. But their hardware was
pretty extensive and then they developed other items during the years that went by.
Q: And that all fell apart in the Depression; also, because he had died.
ADAMS: He had died, yes.
Q: So you worked your way through college?
ADAMS: Oh, yes, and I worked a little bit to help my sister and brother through, too.
Q: The thing I don't seem to have on here is when you got your B.A. at the University of
ADAMS: In 1936.
Q: So that was right in the midst of the Depression.
ADAMS: Yes, during the 30's.
Q: So what did you do?
ADAMS: I was working all the time when I was a student. I worked for the head of the
Journalism Department. I was majoring in Journalism. I worked there every day for a couple of
hours. I worked with him on a book. I didn't do any of the writing. I did annotation for him at the
library, collecting microfilm, all those things.
Q: On that little salary, you were able to survive?
ADAMS: No, I had other jobs, too. I worked for the Association of Fraternities on the campus
and I did press releases. And then I went up to Duluth where my mother was. My mother had re-
married and that's really where all the economic problem started because the marriage didn't
work out and it was terrible and my mother lost the land she'd inherited in Minneapolis. But
anyway, I made money. I went up weekends to help my mother who had a hard time. And I
knew loads of people in Duluth as I did quite a lot in Minneapolis. Seeing all these people's lives,
the miners coming down in the Depression and the bread lines down in Michigan, influenced me
a lot in my growing up.
Q: And then you went to Chicago to Leo Burnett?
ADAMS: Yes, it's the largest [advertising] agency in Chicago now. When I went there it was
very small. We had Letro and Wacey. The wa