by Dr. Jane Carpenter-Rock
“It seems to me a little short of criminal that the Department does not have a display or museum room. …the more the American people are permitted to see these tangible symbols of the Department’s history and work, the clearer understanding and appreciation they will have of its worldwide responsibilities and tasks and the devoted efforts of the Department’s officers and employees to further the interests of our nation.”
~J. Burke Wilkinson, State Department Official, 1956
In a 1956 State Department memo, J. Burke Wilkinson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, articulated the Department’s need for a “display room or museum for the preservation and exhibition of documents and objects important in the history of the Department of State and the Foreign Service.” Again in 1958, a series of internal memos urged the creation of a “Department Museum” and the development of a “related presentation program” to include “eighty additional galleries in the U.S. posts all over the world,” an idea supported by then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. For over sixty years, the effort to establish a “Department Museum” has waxed and waned. Intervening issues like war, international crises, changes in administration, and the ever-present need for office space, have often taken priority. However, the long-held vision of establishing a Department museum is finally taking shape in the form of the National Museum of American Diplomacy. With a projected opening date of 2022, this long-awaited museum promises to be a platform where the American people can finally see the “devoted efforts of the Department’s officers and employees to further the interest of our nation.” This article will explore the development of the National Museum of American Diplomacy and its goal to shed light on the history and practice of American diplomacy through the stories of its people.
Phase One – Becoming the U.S. Diplomacy Center
The effort to build the National Museum of American Diplomacy (NMAD) began in earnest in February 2000 thanks to former Maryland Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias and retired Ambassador Stephen Low. They founded the Foreign Affairs Museum Council, later known as the Diplomacy Center Foundation (DCF), as a 501(c) (3) to assist the Department in raising private funds to establish the U.S. Diplomacy Center (USDC), the original name of the museum. In November 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addressed a crowd in the 21st Street lobby of the Main State building and, with a golden mallet in hand, smashed a wall signaling that work on the U.S. Diplomacy Center had begun. Over the next fourteen years, the USDC collected thousands of artifacts, and together with DCF, raised nearly $50 million for the project. In 2014, former Secretaries of State Kissinger, Baker, Albright, Powell, Clinton, and Kerry broke ground for construction of the museum. In January 2017, Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by Secretaries Albright, Powell, and Clinton, officially opened the beautiful glass pavilion of the U.S. Diplomacy Center at the 21st Street entrance of the State Department building.
Since its inception, the USDC has enjoyed support from each Secretary of State, including current Secretary Mike Pompeo. As Secretary Pompeo said of the project in 2018, “American diplomacy is central to our nation’s greatness – telling the story of diplomatic achievement is an important mission.”
Phase Two – Becoming the National Museum of American Diplomacy
Phase Two of museum development began in 2019 under the direction of Director Mary Kane when the USDC and DCF launched a $36 million campaign to raise the funds needed to complete renovation of the final two halls of the museum, design museum exhibits, and fully open to the public in 2022. To facilitate these goals, on November 5, 2019, Secretary Pompeo announced the museum’s name change from the U.S. Diplomacy Center to the National Museum of American Diplomacy (NMAD). This was done to convey more appropriately the institution’s primary function as a one-of-a-kind museum in the nation’s capital with a focus on telling the story of American diplomacy. Through exhibitions, artifacts, and education programs, the fully realized museum will serve as a platform to engage the public and help them discover why diplomacy matters and how diplomacy benefits their lives every day. Through personal stories, images, and artifacts, visitors will gain a better understanding of the valuable and challenging work of the Foreign Service, Civil Service, Locally Employed Staff, and other dedicated practitioners of American diplomacy. Ultimately, the museum will make the work of diplomacy more visible.
The Preview Exhibit – Diplomacy Is Our Mission
On November 5, 2019, Secretary Pompeo also unveiled a new preview exhibit entitled Diplomacy Is Our Mission in the NMAD pavilion. Curated by NMAD staff and designed in collaboration with Smithsonian Exhibits, Diplomacy Is Our Mission tells the often-surprising story of how diplomacy has shaped our nation from its inception. Using twelve different examples of diplomatic achievement articulated through storytelling, artifacts, video, and imagery, the exhibit showcases people who have dedicated their lives to protecting American citizens and strengthening our country by fostering security, prosperity, democracy, and development at home and around the world. On display in the museum’s main pavilion until late 2022, this exhibit serves as a glimpse into the completed museum, particularly through its extensive use of personal narrative and the collaborative approach in developing content in conjunction with other State Department offices, including the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, the Office of the Historian, and the Office of the Geographer. Diplomacy Is Our Mission is open for public viewing every Friday. For more details, please visit: https://diplomacy.state.gov/
Education Outreach and Diplomacy Simulations
Even as the museum has been taking shape over the past ten years, it has offered Diplomacy Simulations – a unique and immersive education program in which participants engage on critical global issues that explore the practice of diplomacy and illustrate its impact on people’s lives. These programs expose students and educators to the world of foreign affairs and help them develop the skills needed to be competitive in today’s global economy: critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, collaboration and communication. U.S. embassies around the world already make extensive use of the simulations. The museum will continue to run these simulations and train others to use them through free, online materials. They can be found on the NMAD website: https://diplomacy.state.gov/discover-diplomacy/about.
Collecting the Stories of American Diplomacy
As museum expert Leslie Bedford wrote almost two decades ago, “Museums are storytellers.” With no other museum in the country singularly devoted to American diplomacy, NMAD will fill in missing pieces of the official narrative by documenting the lives and personal stories of the foreign affairs community. In addition to recounting the achievements of well-known American diplomats like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George C. Marshall, and James A. Baker III, NMAD will also tell the stories of lesser-known figures who helped shape American diplomacy and the U.S. Department of State.
One such figure was Edward R. Dudley, Sr. Dudley was a civil rights lawyer from New York who worked at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) with Thurgood Marshall and later as legal counsel to the Governor of the United States Virgin Islands. In 1948, President Truman appointed Dudley to serve as U.S. Minister to Liberia. At the time of Dudley’s appointment, the U.S. government represented its interests through a legation in Monrovia. However, in 1949, Truman decided to elevate the legation to the status of an embassy and appointed Dudley as the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, thus becoming the first African American to be named U.S. Ambassador.
In addition to his work advancing U.S. commercial interests and strengthening bilateral relations between the United States and Liberia, Dudley effected significant changes in the Foreign Service for African American officers. At the time, African American Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) were relegated to assignments in what was pejoratively called the “Negro Circuit.” These were posts in “black, hardship, disagreeable” places – as Dudley referred to them – including Monrovia, Liberia, Ponta Delgada, Portugal, and Madagascar. Upon arrival in Monrovia, Dudley realized this situation was not only unfair, but also against the policies of the Foreign Service. Drawing upon his considerable legal training, he researched and wrote several detailed briefs back to the State Department, citing specific examples and statistics to make the case that black FSOs were being treated unfairly and that the State Department was in violation of its policies. These memos, as well as Ambassador Dudley’s direct communication with officials in Washington, led to the eventual break-up of the “Negro Circuit” and more opportunities for African American FSOs to serve in a wider variety of posts, employing their skills and knowledge around the world. In an oral history, Dudley later recounted that he felt this was “…probably one of the more important things that I did the whole time I was there (at the State Department).”
In recognition of Edward Dudley’s contributions, NMAD has collected from Dudley’s son, Edward R. Dudley, Jr., several artifacts and photos representing Dudley’s time as a diplomat. These will be featured in the future museum.
Another pioneer in American diplomacy is Tom Gallagher. Gallagher was America’s first openly gay Foreign Service Officer. When his widow wanted to donate some of his personal affects to the museum, NMAD Associate Curator Katie Speckart did some research and contacted an author working on a book about the LGBTQ history of the State Department. The author was having difficulty finding information since the Department only documented the “official” history of major U.S. foreign policy decisions. Presented with Speckart’s direct work with Gallagher’s family and others, the author remarked that NMAD already knew more about the Department’s LGBTQ history than any other source. This story illustrates the lack of information available in the official record about the varied experiences of individuals in the U.S. foreign affairs community. Their stories were being lost in deference to the official record. NMAD, as the nation’s first museum dedicated to telling the stories of American diplomacy, aims to address these absences.
Tom Gallagher had a distinguished career in the State Department and made a lasting contribution. NMAD is honored to tell his story and preserve artifacts from his diplomatic service. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of Gallagher in 2012, his story is emblematic of “all of the employees who sacrificed their right to be who they were …defending your rights and the rights and freedoms of others at home and abroad.”
As the first female Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent, Patricia “Patti” Morton was very aware of the legacy she would leave for women. Reflecting upon her achievement, Morton once said, “When I think of being the first woman security officer, what I think of most is I hope I have done the best job I can, and that it will be easier for those who follow.” Aware that she was always being watched and evaluated, Morton’s willingness to always answer the call of duty, even in conflict zones, attests to her dedication to paving a path for others to follow. Morton originally joined the State Department as a Foreign Service Staff Secretary in 1965, but in April 1972, she was recruited by DSS’s predecessor organization, the Office of Security, to be a Special Agent. She went on to have a distinguished 30-year career, serving in Nepal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Singapore, Vietnam, and Washington, D.C.
Before her death in October 2019, Morton had established a strong relationship with the National Museum of American Diplomacy. She was cognizant of her trailblazing role and wanted to ensure her example was an encouragement to others. Morton faced many challenges in her diplomatic career and many of the objects she donated to the museum reflect the realities she endured. One was the slim, blue clutch purse in which she carried her .357 Magnum pistol while assigned to the Washington field office in the early 1970s. At the time, Diplomatic Security did not issue gear for women to hold their weapons. Therefore, Morton found her own solution by purchasing and using this clutch. During her years as a Special Agent she earned the nickname “Pistol Packin’ Patti.”
Stories like these represent generations of foreign affairs professionals who spent their lives reflecting the changing face of America to the world and NMAD will tell their stories through images and artifacts that represent the depth and breadth of American diplomacy. NMAD is constantly in search of artifacts with compelling stories that relate to a person, place, or event in diplomatic history or that reflect the current practice of diplomacy. Most desirable are artifacts backed by stories that vividly illustrate the day-to-day activities of those engaged in the conduct of diplomacy, including personal effects and tools of the trade present during pivotal moments in U.S. diplomatic history. Unique artifacts already in the collection include a 1778 Dunlap printing of the Treaties of Amity and Commerce and Alliance with France, the “Signature Segment” of the Berlin Wall, and the bloodstained suit worn by Ambassador Prudence Bushnell when U.S. Embassy Nairobi was attacked in 1998. In September, the museum also acquired set and prop material from the CBS television drama Madam Secretary. The hit show cast diplomats in a positive light and helped influence popular opinions about the importance of diplomacy in our daily lives. NMAD welcomes contributions. If you are interested in donating artifacts, please contact NMAD@state.gov.
As the National Museum of American Diplomacy continues to take shape, the urgency of the mission becomes clearer day by day. The American public is largely unaware of the diplomacy conducted on their behalf around the world. Neither are they aware of the level of skill and sacrifice demonstrated by practitioners to ensure our national security and prosperity. In an increasingly interconnected world, now is the time to make “tangible symbols of the Department’s history” visible to the American people and the world, so they can have a better understanding and appreciation of the “devoted efforts of the Department’s officers and employees to further the interests of our nation.” For good reason, the work of our honorable tradition has largely taken place beyond the line of sight of the American public. However, if we are to receive the resources and support necessary to continue robust diplomacy, it is time to honor the work of American diplomacy and share its stories with the world.
Dr. Jane Carpenter-Rock is Deputy Director for Museum Content at the National Museum of American Diplomacy. Entering the Foreign Service with an extensive Art History background, she has had various domestic and overseas diplomatic assignments, including Colombia and South Africa. For more information about the National Museum of American Diplomacy, please visit https://diplomacy.state.gov/ and follow us on Facebook (NMADmuseum), Twitter (@NMADMuseum), and Instagram (@nmadmuseum).
 Bedford, Leslie. “Storytelling: The Real Work of Museums.” Curator 44, no. 1 (January 2001): 27–34.
 Tutt, Celestine, Ambassador Edward Richard Dudley, transcript of an oral history conducted 1981 by Celestine Tutt, Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 2008, 17 pp.
 Remarks at the 20th Anniversary of GLIFAA, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Benjamin Franklin Room, Washington, D.C., November 28, 2012.
 Oral History Interview, Patricia Morton, 25 May 2005, conducted by Amy Garrett.