Family Friday: What My Mother Did During My Father’s Foreign Service Career

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod

So, Nancy, what did you do while you were overseas?

A question posed to my mother, Nancy Robb Amerson, at a Cape Cod dinner party of accomplished retirees

Here’s what she wrote in 2004 about that encounter.

Nothing

Feeling wicked, I found myself answering, “Nothing.” I don’t usually consider myself capable of irony, but this answer could only have been understood by another Foreign Service wife. To soften my rather abrupt response, I continued with the usual recounting that no Embassy wife could work in a foreign post without the ambassador’s approval, and that the only jobs we could accept were as a teacher or nurse.

My answer seemed to satisfy the casual curiosity about how I could have spent 20 years overseas, unoccupied.

Since that night, I have tossed over in my mind just how I could have responded to the women who were years younger than I. In their generation, almost all women have held some paying job and that is, as it has always been for men, the peg that identifies their place in the larger community. So DOING equals BEING PAID.

Homemaker

The women of the early 50s, when we were first married, still were mostly, for want of a better term, homemakers. Some had a taste of earning a salary during a few years of teaching after college, as I did, though few in later years have ever identified themselves as teachers, as I think would be the case now.

Ten moves, four countries, two languages

So, during our 20 odd years overseas, I continued in my homemaker role in an ever expanding way. I was responsible for resettling our family during our 10 moves. For learning to shop in four foreign countries using two new languages. For seeing that our girls were settled in the many different schools.

Hostess, guide, ambassador support

For running large and small parties in our home to fulfill our obligation to promote our country. For being an unofficial guide for visiting official visitors, be they pleasant or unbearable. And for being available to the ambassador’s wife when she required help.

Having a ball

Of course, I was not paid, nor would I have ever even considered such to be a thing. The truth is, I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to be having all of these new experiences. I was having a ball.

State Department “Pink Paper” changed it all

A new generation of wives joined our ranks, women who were wary about “being taken advantage of for no pay.“ The old idea of a foreign service team of husband and wife just was not in their vocabulary. No need to go into detail here, it changed the community feeling we felt within the embassies. The state department geared up to produce what was called within the ranks The Pink Paper, delineating rules on the roles of wife overseas.

A killer of fun times was what it amounted to.

Robert and Nancy Amerson served in the United States Information Agency from 1955 to 1979, representing our country through public diplomacy in Venezuela, Italy, Colombia, and Spain.

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan, 1962, Rome
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan 1962, Rome

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