History

 

Established in 1961 during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, THIS became the first volunteer organization of its kind, designed expressly to welcome newly appointed foreign diplomats and their families to Washington, DC. Then Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, and the State Department’s Chief of Protocol, Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke, aimed to provide essential services to diplomatic families with the help and experience of Ambassador Angier Duke’s special assistant, Eleanor Israel. Israel, who worked with diplomatic families in New York, began developing a network of interested parties to make THIS a reality in the nation’s capital.


May 26, 1961

On this date, THIS held its first formal meeting. In preparation, Eleanor Israel collaborated with the Overseas Education Fund of the League of Women Voters and the Coordinating Committee of Organizations Serving International Visitors (CCOSIV). It was an officer of CCOSIV who put Mrs. Israel in touch with Mrs. Lillian Owen, who was active in civic affairs around Washington, and who hosted THIS’ first meeting in her home.

September 1961

Lillian Owen became chair of THIS, which began operation under the temporary name “Committee on Services to Diplomatic Visitors.” THIS held an inaugural gala at the Blair House (The White House’s Guest House) to which all Ambassadors were invited.

December 1961

THIS became fully operational under the name of “The Hospitality and Information Service for Diplomatic Residents and their Families.” Chairwoman Owen was joined by Petey McClintock as Vice-Chairman, Irena Roberts as Secretary, and Eleanor Israel as Treasurer and Official Liaison to the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol.

December 3, 1961

THIS issued its first Press Release, announcing the organization’s founding.

May 7, 1962

First Lady, Claudia (Lady Bird) Johnson delivered a speech at THIS’ first orientation meeting.

1961 – 1966

In the first 5 years, THIS received tremendous encouragement from the White House as well as support from volunteers, CCOSIV and the wider DC community. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke became honorary sponsors while Mrs. Virginia Rusk, the wife of the Secretary of State, all the wives of President Kennedy’s Cabinet, and the wives of the three DC commissioners also became sponsors. The sponsorship of influential Washingtonians became an integral part of shaping the newly formed organization.

1963 – 1965

Spring – THIS transitioned out of Chairwoman Owen’s basement, opening an office at 700 Jackson Place, NW

December 3, 1964

THIS received a grant of $10,000 from the Meridian House Foundation.

1964

THIS moved to 801 19th Street, NW

June 21, 1965

The Meridian House Foundation donated ongoing financial support and permanent office where THIS remained until 2018.

February 3, 1965

Mrs. Helen Bing, THIS volunteer and donor, presented a White House tour guidebook to First Lady Claudia Johnson, which THIS volunteers translated into Arabic, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. Guidebooks were distributed to accommodate international visitors of the White House.

1966

By its fifth year of operation, THIS mobilized more than 400 volunteers, 10,000 diplomatic participants and 34 participating organization – two of which are still active participants (the American Association of University women in Virginia and the National Council of Jewish Women of Montgomery County). THIS celebrated its 5-year milestone by hosting walking tours of volunteers’ homes, cooking committee sessions and family picnics at Hickory Hill, the home of Robert (Bobby) and Ethel Kennedy.

March 10, 1966

The Washington Daily News published an article about THIS, which featured volunteers and diplomats bonding during THIS activities and welcome events around Washington.

1967

After Chairwoman Lillian Owen’s departure from THIS, the organization began to host larger programs around DC, including one of its more extravagant events, Alaska Night at the Smithsonian Institute. It was an opportunity for diplomats to learn about the northern-most state.

1969

The first Meridian House Ball was held on October 8, which remains one of Washington’s main social events each year.

April 29, 1972

THIS for Diplomats’ 10th Anniversary

1975

Notable events of 1975 included: December Holiday Ball at the State Department, Christmas Caroling at several embassies, cooking committees, coffees for embassy social secretaries, monthly diplomatic seminars, a trip to the United Nations and a reciprocal trip to Washington for the wives of United Nations delegates.

September 1975

With the passing of Eleanor Israel, the Eleanor Israel Memorial Fund was created in her memory to raise money for a series of lectures. The first lecture was given by Ambassador Duke.

May 1977

Calling committees began hosting regular coffee events for newly arrived diplomats.

May 1981

THIS celebrated its 20th anniversary with a coffee event at the State Department

July 1983

THIS purchased its first computer and hired its first paid staff members.

1986

THIS celebrated 25 years of servicing diplomats.

THIS began producing handbooks for the growing number of volunteers.

THIS launched three new programs: Book Discussions, English Conversation for Mothers with Children Under Five, Programs for Professionals (for working spouses of diplomats).

1988

THIS volunteers were invited to the grand opening of the Meridian Foundation’s second building, the White-Meyer House.

1989

With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, THIS began inviting a record number of Eastern Bloc Diplomats to welcome events.

1991

THIS’ Embassy Liaison Committee was successful in recruiting diplomats from Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and China to attend programs.

January 1991

The Soviet Women’s Council invited 60 THIS volunteers to an afternoon program at their compound, signaling increased participation in THIS.

November 1991

THIS celebrated its 30th anniversary with a champagne supper in the Caucus Room on the Hill.

1994

The Meridian House went under major renovation for ten months, which moved THIS offices to a building on 16th Street.

1995

THIS celebrated its 35th anniversary with a buffet supper and dancing at the Botanical Gardens.

May 1, 1995

Angier Biddle Duke passed away. He was the Ambassador to El Salvador, Denmark, Spain, and Morocco, in addition to being the Chief of Protocol for two presidents. As Chief of Protocol under John F. Kennedy, he was responsible for initiating the creation of THIS.

2001

THIS celebrated its 40th anniversary at the Rockefeller Home.

March 8, 2001

Lillian Owen, co-founder of THIS passed away.

March 19, 2001

THIS remembered Lillian Owen in a speech given by Mary Louise Day at Meridian House.

2004

Donald Burnham Ensenat, Chief of Protocol for the US Department of State gave a speech about THIS.

2005

THIS launched its first website.

2006

THIS celebrated its 45th Anniversary at the Department of State. U.S. Deputy Chief of Protocol Raymond P. Martinez spoke at the celebration.

2011

THIS for Diplomats celebrated its 50th Anniversary with Vice President Joe Biden as a guest.

2018

THIS for Diplomats left Meridian International Center to a new location at 1250 H Street NW, Washington, DC.