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Minnesotan Eugenie Anderson blazed trail for female diplomats

In 1949 Anderson became the first American woman to hold the rank of ambassador.

Eugenie Anderson
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Eugenie Anderson

Eugenie Moore Anderson emerged a trailblazer for American women in international diplomacy during the post-World War II era. In 1949 she became the first American woman to hold the rank of ambassador.

Helen Eugenie Moore, who went by Eugenie, was born in Adair, Iowa, in 1909. After attending Simpson College, Moore left Iowa and transferred to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where she planned on a career in music. At Carleton, she met art student John Pierce Anderson. They married a year later.

Eugenie Moore Anderson and her husband lived and studied in New York City until 1932, when they returned to Minnesota. The Andersons moved to Tower View farm near Red Wing, the home of John’s parents, Dr. Alexander and Mrs. Lydia Anderson. Eugenie and John lived on Tower View’s east side, where they raised two children, Johanna and Hans.

Eugenie Anderson was deeply affected by a trip to Europe in 1937, where she witnessed the rise of fascism in Germany. Anderson saw a group of uniformed five-year old boys goose-stepping in lock step as she entered the totalitarian country. She reported that she was sickened and frightened by the sight. The twenty-seven-year-old housewife was determined to speak out against the potential danger she saw in Europe. She began studying global and domestic issues and joined the League of Women Voters in 1938.

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In 1944 Eugenie Moore Anderson joined Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party. Anderson linked with a group of young, talented DFL leaders later described as “Cold War Liberals.” Besides Anderson, this band included future state and national notables Hubert H. Humphrey, Arthur E. Naftalin and Orville L. Freeman. Strong anti-Communists, Anderson and her allies defeated the pro-Soviet wing of the DFL. They also opposed American isolationists who feared foreign political and military entanglements. Anderson became a Democratic national committeewoman in 1948. Later that year, she was a Minnesota delegate-at-large to the national Democratic convention.

Anderson helped President Harry Truman win reelection in 1948 by campaigning for him across the state. In doing so, the Red Wing woman gained the attention of national party leaders.

In 1949, the president chose her as ambassador to Denmark. This move made Eugenie Anderson the United States’ first woman to become an ambassador. The Minnesotan said her appointment demonstrated that women could be recognized for their public work, not just their roles as women and mothers.

When Anderson renewed the commerce and friendship agreement between the U.S. and Denmark in 1950, she became the first American woman to sign a formal diplomatic agreement. In 1951, she signed an important treaty that allowed the U.S. to use Danish airbases in Greenland. Anderson won the respect of Danish people by learning the language, making radio addresses, and riding a bike, as ordinary Danes did.

Ambassador Anderson resigned her post in 1953. She remained active in political and civic causes, running for, but not winning, the 1958 DFL nomination for U.S. Senator.

John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, and he later asked Anderson to be his minister to Bulgaria. With her appointment the United States sent a woman diplomat behind the Cold War’s Iron Curtain for the first time. Anderson’s hosts were hostile to the forceful American representative. In one instance, officials tried to stop her from making a Fourth of July television speech by requiring that it be given in Bulgarian. Anderson thwarted Communist attempts to silence her by mastering the language well enough to give the talk. Anderson submitted her resignation to President Johnson in November 1964 and returned home to Red Wing.

The next year, President Lyndon Johnson chose Ambassador Anderson to represent the United States on the United Nations Trusteeship Council in 1965. She also served on the U.N. Security Council, becoming the first woman to do so.

Eugenie Anderson also proved an effective campaigner for her DFL colleague Hubert H. Humphrey. The senator ran for president in 1960 and 1968 with her support.

Anderson returned to Minnesota at the end of her U.N. service. She remained politically active, campaigning for some state candidates in the 1980s, but lived fairly quietly otherwise for the remainder of her life. She passed away in 1997, at age eighty-seven.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.