Ozan Ozavci tells the story of Bulgarian Nadejda Stancioff, the only woman delegate at Lausanne.

Ozan is co-founder of the Lausanne Project.

Women have always been influential in international affairs. Yet after diplomacy became a profession, for nearly a century no woman was appointed to a diplomatic post in an official capacity. That Austrian radical pacificist Bertha von Suttner sat at the Universal Peace Congress in Bern in 1892 was unprecedented. Only after World War I did women, the likes of Armenian Diana Abgar, Hungarian Rosika Schwimmer, and Russian Alexandra Kollantaï, take up positions as pioneering woman diplomats. Their appointments were nonetheless conditional: they were expected to resign their posts if they married.

Among the first women assigned to a diplomatic post after World War I was another eastern European, Nadejda Stancioff (1894-1957), also known as Nadezhda Stanchova (Muir), who was in the Bulgarian delegation at Lausanne. She was the only woman delegate at the Swiss resort in 1922-3, often mistaken by the media for the first woman diplomat tout court.[1] Her role as secretary-interpreter of the Bulgarian delegation was an interim task she had undertaken at the request of Prime Minister Aleksandur Stambolyski. The eldest daughter of Dimitar Stancioff, former Bulgarian Prime Minister, and Anna Stancioff, a French Countess (née de Grenaud de Saint-Christophe), Stancioff could speak perfect French and English, on top of six other languages—an invaluable asset for Bulgaria, Stambolyski thought.[2]

NADEJDA STANCIOFF IN HER 20s
SOURCE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Stancioff had a close association with the Bulgarian premier.[3] In July 1922, he had endorsed her appointment as first secretary of the Bulgarian legation in Washington, although she postponed her departure to represent her country at Lausanne, just as she had done at Neuilly in 1919 and Genoa in early 1922. Thanks to her gender, candid wit, beauty, and now her appointment to Washington, Stancioff became a celebrity in Europe – this in her mid-twenties.

One of the many interviews she gave at the time indicates the source of her fascination to her (mostly women) admirers. Asked by journalist Henry D. Davray if she was not “moved by the heavy responsibilities that will weigh on your frail shoulders [in Washington],” she replied that she was not “moved”, just “a little nervous.”

 But you know, I won’t do any more harm than the men have done; do you believe that women would have plunged Europe into a more complete slump than that from which the peoples suffer today?

When Davray remarked somewhat snidely that “you do feminism, mademoiselle,” Stancioff’s response was quick: “No. I am trying to explain to you that I feel strong enough to face a career until now reserved for the male sex.”[4]

THE BULGARIAN DELEGATION AT NEUILLY, 1919
(AT RIGHT: NADEJDA STANCIOFF & ALEKSANDUR STAMBOLYSKI)
SOURCE: BULGARIAN HISTORY MUSEUM

Emblematic of the difficulties woman diplomats faced at the time was a telegram Stancioff received from her younger brother Ivan on the day of her appointment. “A woman’s place is in the home,” he wrote. “It is up to her to raise children and not diplomatic protests, to make layettes and not drafts, to organize her household and not conferences. That is why, far from congratulating you, I sincerely though tenderly blame you.”[5]

Deeply saddened yet resolute, the telegram didn’t stop Stancioff’s joining the Bulgarian delegation on their difficult mission in Lausanne in November 1922. Stambolyski and her father Dimitar sought an outlet on the Aegean Sea, even as they also sought to secure Bulgaria’s territorial integrity as a disarmed nation. She participated in several meetings of the Territorial and Military Commission, at which, as she wrote in her journal, she battled with Eleftherios Venizelos.

NADEJDA STANCIOFF AND THE BULGARIAN DELEGATION AT THE GENOA CONFERENCE IN 1922, SOURCE: GALLICA

During the conference, Stancioff met and impressed many other prominent statesmen, diplomats and their wives: “I adore these conferences, this hall, where [as the] only woman … I hear the bloody answers of George Nathaniel [Curzon], where I observe each mute jeer of [Georgy] Chicherin; the unique smile of Ukraine; the false hysteria of Ulysses [Venizelos] … [and] the grecophile manoeuvres [which] make me clench with rage at my colleague Harold [Nicolson]. [6]

Devoid of any substantial leverage, Bulgaria’s weak hand at the negotiating table exasperated her: “Philosophy of life: poor powerless!” Stancioff took comfort in her own achievements: “I chatted like an ambassadress with Garroni who completely forgot Madame Bompard… I told English and French alike that if they opened my heart they would find the name Dedeagatch written there… I spoke of Turin in Italian with Garroni and say sayonara to the Japanese who were startled to hear … doytassimaste.”[7] She wrote that her personal international position was “stupefying.., [while] no one has noticed Lady Curzon!”[8]

THE BULGARIAN DELEGATION AT LAUSANNE
(AT LEFT: NADEJDA STANCIOFF AND ALEKSANDUR STAMBOLYSKI).
SOURCE: GALLICA

Her journal suggests that Stancioff was an intermediary between İsmet Pasha and Curzon on 2-3 February 1923, as the negotiations were about to break apart: “… interview with İsmet alone. I cry, he listens…” The next day she would frankly tell Curzon that he had “to make concessions; you have got to drop the Greeks. And other things. He asked me to see [İsmet] Pasha [in private] … to tell him his part (of his will but also of his powerlessness)… I enjoyed it [the conversation] as I would have enjoyed a rendezvous with a lover.”[9] Even though Curzon and İsmet did meet in private one last time on 4 February, it was to no avail. The peace talks adjourned that evening. A few days later, Nadejda left Lausanne to take up her new role in Washington.

Once described by a British journalist as the ‘wonder woman’ of diplomacy, Stancioff believed that women were natural diplomats, gifted with intuition—something that men could only acquire with hardship. Women’s hatred for physical conflict was so strong that “those with the necessary authority will use all their weight against it in diplomatic negotiations.”[10] For all her linguistic skills, forthrightness and tireless devotion, unfortunately, her diplomatic career would prove to be short. After the brutal assassination of Stambolyski in June 1923, she resigned from her Washington post in protest, never to return to diplomacy again.[11] Nine months later the outspoken Stancioff married Sir Alexander Kay Muir, a Scottish tea merchant, very quietly.[12] In the end, the “wonder” moniker took as much as it gave, by presenting her talents as exceptional. A comet that blazed across the androcentric post-war conference scene, it would be some time before new female stars shone in the diplomatic firmament.

Notes

[1] “Impressions de Mlle Stancioff la première femme diplomate,” Le Petit Journal, 20 July 1922.

[2] Alexander Shabov, “Nadezhda Stanchova e parvata balgarka v diplomatsiyata,” Actual Nosvishtov, 15 November 2018.

[3] Mari A. Firkatian, Diplomats and Dreamers: The Stancioff Family in Bulgarian History, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2008, 226, 236.

[4] “Impressions de Mlle Stancioff la première femme diplomate,” Le Petit Journal, 20 July 1922.

[5] “Echos,” La Liberté, 25 July 1922.

[6] Firkatian, Diplomats and Dreamers, 243-4.

[7] Firkatian, Diplomats and Dreamers, 242.

[8] Firkatian, Diplomats and Dreamers, 231.

[9] Firkatian, Diplomats and Dreamers, 244.

[10] Firkatian, Diplomats and Dreamers, 228.

[11] Shabov, “Nadezhda Stanchova.”

[12] “Gifted Girl’s Romance,” New York Herald, 17 March 1924.

FEATURE IMAGE: Nadejda Stancioff Muir, Source: Geni.com