Barbara M. Watson

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Barbara Mae Watson (November 5, 1918 – February 18, 1983) was a United States diplomat who was the first black and the first woman to serve as an Assistant Secretary of State.


Watson was born in New York City on November 5, 1918, the daughter of James S. Watson, the first black judge elected in New York State, and his wife, Violet Lopez Wilson, one of the founders of the National Council of Negro Women. Barbara M. Wilson was the sister of James Lopez Watson and the cousin of J. Bruce Llewellyn and of Colin Powell. She attended Barnard College, receiving a B.A. in 1943.

After college, she took a job as an interviewer for the United Seamen's Service. In 1946, she founded a modeling agency, Barbara Watson Models, serving as the agency's executive director until 1956.

Watson then returned to school, attending New York Law School and graduating with a law degree in 1962. She spent 1963-64 working as an assistant attorney in the New York City Law Department, then spent 1964-66 as executive director of the New York City Commission to the United Nations.

Watson joined the United States Department of State in 1966 as special assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration. She then became Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Security and Consular Affairs and served as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Security and Consular Affairs from 1966 to 1968. In July 1968, President of the United States Lyndon Johnson nominated Watson as Assistant Secretary of State for Security and Consular Affairs and, after Senate confirmation, she held this office from August 12, 1968 until December 31, 1974. She was the first black Assistant Secretary of State and the first woman to serve as Assistant Secretary of State.

Upon leaving government service in 1975, Watson took a job with Walter Annenberg's Triangle Publications as a legal consultant. She also lectured at several colleges and universities.

In January 1977, President Jimmy Carter asked Watson to return to the State Department as Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs; her second stint in this office lasted from April 13, 1977 until August 17, 1980. President Carter later appointed Watson United States Ambassador to Malaysia; she presented her credentials on September 25, 1980 and held this post until March 1, 1981.

Watson died at a hospital in Washington, D.C. on February 18, 1983 at the age of 64.


Government offices
Preceded by
Abba P. Schwartz
Assistant Secretary of State for Security and Consular Affairs
August 12, 1968 – December 31, 1974
Succeeded by
Leonard F. Walentynowicz
Preceded by
Leonard F. Walentynowicz
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs
April 13, 1977 – August 17, 1980
Succeeded by
Diego C. Asencio
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Robert Hopkins Miller
United States Ambassador to Malaysia
September 25, 1980 – March 1, 1981
Succeeded by
Ronald D. Palmer