“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.”
The first female diplomatic security special agent Patti Morton expressed this hope during a Diplomatic Security oral history interview in 1991. Ms. Morton was recruited in 1972 to join the Office of Security, predecessor to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) in the Washington Field Office as a Special Agent.
She previously served as a Foreign Service Staff Officer at several diplomatic posts and had received a commendation for her security work in Kinshasa. She later served at Embassy Saigon where she supervised the Marine Security Guards and wrote the post’s evacuation plan that was used during the fall of Saigon.
Being the first female special agent, she was very aware of the legacy she would leave for women.
Ms. Morton has been very supportive of the U.S. Diplomacy Center (USDC), and she recently was gracious enough to provide USDC with some additional items that represent her trailblazing career. At the time she was recruited, DS did not issue holsters that fit Ms. Morton. She found her own solution for carrying her DS-issued .357 Magnum revolver by using this dark blue clutch. During her recent visit with USDC curatorial staff, Ms. Morton pointed out how tricky it was to quickly draw her pistol from a clutch when the need arose.
Patti Morton entered the world of special agents just as another legendary agent retired. Frank J. Madden served with the Office of Security from January 1942 until 1971. He served on personal protective details for three Secretaries of State -- Acheson, Dulles and Herter -- and countless visits by high-level foreign dignitaries, such as the Shah of Iran and the King of Morocco. In a 1991 interview, Madden said, “I had a great privilege to be associated not only with the…Department of State but also with the Office of Security….It gave me the privilege of seeing the world.”
Madden wore this fedora while on the job, reflecting the style for men of his era. The USDC acquired his hat as well as his daily journal for the year 1961 from DS. In the journal he diligently recorded the hours and the locations where he worked every day. On February 20, 1961, for example, he recorded that he was “…assigned to Prime Minister Diefenbacker of Canada. He arrived at 11:25 am, departed at 3:30 pm. No incidents.” This was an informal visit a few weeks after Prime Minister John Diefenbacker and President Eisenhower had signed the Treaty on Cooperative Development of the Water Resources of the Columbia River Basin on January 17.
These artifacts -- his hat and her clutch -- reflect how a man and woman were expected to appear as agents during their time. They reveal the agents’ personal stories as part of the broader history of Diplomatic Security, and diplomacy more broadly. This is the centennial year for DS –- Secretary of State Robert Lansing created the first security office for the Department in 1916. The USDC is honored to help celebrate DS’s proud history and to collaborate on preserving this history for future generations.
About the Author: Katie Speckart serves as the Collections Manager at the U.S. Diplomacy Center at the U.S. Department of State.