Updated: Nov 3, 2020
The State Department is where I've spent the last fifteen years of my career. I was fascinated by the lives of diplomats past and present. That's why I was thrilled to make the acquaintance of Evangeline (nee Bell) Bruce, one of the women I feature on my #LadiesoftheGeorgetownSet tour. I don't mean literally, as she unfortunately passed away in 1995. I met her through my research for the tour, and I'm sad there aren't more sources on her and her life.
I can't tell you everything that I've learned about Vangie but I can say she was a remarkable woman who made a lasting impact on history by just being herself, which was someone incredibly sophisticated and adept at being a social coordinator or Saloniste (don't call her a hostess, she hated the word). Women of her time still had few career options of power or "distinction." Sometimes you had to be married to the right man to be in the right place in order to have the opportunity to use your talents. Vangie married David Bruce who was working at the time for the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor of the CIA) and after the end of WWII was later made Ambassador to France. This was a critical post as the USG was working to implement the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the devastation of the war. She had already proven herself to be indispensable during the war for her knowledge of European languages, culture, dress, and politics (and she had a interesting connection to Ernest Hemingway but you have to take the tour to find out).
While in France she became the heart and soul of the Embassy. Her job as the wife of the Ambassador was to ensure that the social aspect of foreign policy was as effective as the official aspect. She knew who to invite to dinners, would mix company to make conversations lively and interesting, and connected to the French people on multiple levels. The French were wild about her, due to the fact she spoke their language fluently, her patrician looks, tall slim figure and impeccable fashion sense. She even had her own French language radio show. The often transitional French Government would send envoys to HER to get a sense of what the US government's impressions were. She was so adept at her position that she was dubbed the ultimate Ambassador's Wife, and future Ambassadors and their wives were instructed to consult with her on protocols and social efficacy.
At the time she and David were stationed in France, President Truman appointed the first female Ambassador, Eugenie Anderson, and so the path was begun for women who would covet these top diplomacy positions. However, Vangie made her mark in the best way available to her at the time and she continued to do so into their time in Berlin and London, the only Ambassador to serve at all three. I don't doubt that if she had struck out on the path to an Ambassadorship herself that she would have made a remarkable one. That was only one of many admirable things about her. I myself have served at an Embassy briefly, and observed how incredible a difference an Ambassador and their spouse can make in the relationship between our great country and others. I admire the position and all it entails. It's currently a challenging time to be a US Ambassador, as it was back in Vangie's day, while the world was getting back on its feet after a globally devastating event. My hats off to those who do it every day, I salute you.