Wells, Melissa Foelsch (1932—)

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Wells, Melissa Foelsch (1932—)

American ambassador. Born Meliza Foelsch in Tallinn, Estonia, on November 18, 1932; daughter of Kuno Georg Foelsch (a physicist) and Miliza (Korjus) Foelsch (a singer); became naturalized U.S. citizen, 1941; attended a Catholic women's college; Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, B.S., 1956; married Alfred Washburn Wells (an officer in the Foreign Service), in 1960; children: Christopher, Gregory.

Served as ambassador to Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (1976–77); served as ambassador to Mozambique (1987–90); served as ambassador to Zaire, now the Republic of Congo (1991–93); became ambassador to Estonia (1998); took several positions with the United Nations, including under-secretary general of administration and management; was the first woman foreign service officer to have a child while at her post.

Melissa Foelsch Wells was born in Estonia in 1932, the daughter of physicist Kuno Georg Foelsch and professional singer Miliza Korjus . Her parents moved to Hollywood to appear in MGM films when Melissa was four, and the young girl seemed poised to follow them into show business when she became a show girl and a synchronized swimmer after attending a Catholic women's college. However, when the traveling aquacade troupe with which she performed broke up, her life took a significantly different direction. She enrolled at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C., graduating cum laude in 1956. By 1960, she had passed the Foreign Service exam, and had married Alfred Washburn Wells, a fellow officer.

Against precedent, Wells was not asked to resign when she married, or when she and her husband separated one year later. In 1961, she transferred to Trinidad with the couple's child, while her husband went to London. From Trinidad, Wells went to Paris in 1964 and eventually reconciled with her husband in London. She was the first woman officer to have a child while at a post, proving that childbearing did not interfere with embassy work. However, she still had battles to fight as a wife, mother, and Foreign

Service officer, after discovering that women officers were not given family allowances. She took the case to the ambassador and won.

Wells transferred to Brazil in 1975 as a commercial counselor and, after learning Portuguese, was selected the first U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde in 1976. She became a delegate to the UN Economic and Social Council from 1977 to 1979, before traveling to Uganda for the United Nations. She served in the UN for seven years both in Uganda and Geneva.

Beginning in 1987, Wells served as ambassador to Mozambique, remaining in that post until 1991. There, she convinced the U.S. government to fund Lhanguene, a home for youth who were rendered helpless by the long-time conflict between warring political factions. Wells next became ambassador to another African nation when she went to Zaire (now Republic of Congo) in 1991. This two-year post ended when she took the position of under-secretary general for administration and management with the UN in New York City. In 1998, she was appointed U.S. ambassador to her native Estonia.


Morin, Ann Miller. Her Excellency: An Oral History of American Women Ambassadors. NY: Twayne, 1995, pp. 211–227.

Amy Cooper , M.A., M.S.I., Ann Arbor, Michigan