Born: August 5, 1875 in St. Louis,
Died: April 19, 1962 in Washington, D.C.
Source Citation: Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 7:
1961-1965. American Council of Learned Societies, 1981 and Genealogy
of the Bliss Family in America.
Robert Woods Bliss (Aug. 5, 1875 - Apr. 19, 1962),
diplomat, was born in St. Louis, Mo., the son of William Henry Bliss, an
attorney, and of Anna Louisa Woods. He attended preparatory schools in
Virginia, Minnesota, and Massachusetts and then graduated from Harvard
University with a B.A. in 1900. Bliss entered the diplomatic service upon
graduation and worked first in the office of the secretary of the United
States civil government in Puerto Rico. From 1901 to 1903 he was private
secretary to the governor of the island.
After passing the State Department qualifying
examination in 1903, Bliss was assigned to Venice as United States consul.
The following year he was appointed second secretary to the United States
embassy in St. Petersburg, where he remained until January 1907. On Apr.
14, 1908, he married Mildred Barnes, daughter of United States Congressman
Demas Barnes of Ohio; they had no children. In 1907, Bliss had been named
secretary of the legation in Brussels, and the following year he served as
a delegate to the international conference that considered the revision of
the arms and ammunition regulations of the General Act of Brussels of
From 1909 to 1912 Bliss served in Buenos Aires as
secretary of the legation. In June 1912 he attended the international
conference at Paris that met to consider the relief of aliens. From 1912
to 1916 Bliss was secretary of the Paris embassy; from 1916 to 1920 he
held the rank of counselor of the embassy. In 1918 he was temporarily
assigned to serve as chargé d'affaires at the United States legation in
Bliss was recalled to Washington in 1920 and became
chief of the Division of Western European Affairs at the Department of
State. He was in charge of protocol and ceremonies during the 1921-1922
Washington Conference on Limitation of Armaments. Simultaneously he served
as chairman of the diplomatic service board of examiners.
A lifelong Republican, Bliss was appointed by President
Warren Harding as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to
Sweden in 1923. He served there until 1927, when he was named ambassador
to Argentina by President Calvin Coolidge. Bliss's career was typical of
many foreign service officers. Having paid his dues in relatively minor
posts during three decades of dedicated service, he was rewarded by
promotion to ambassador in his final years. Bliss retired in July 1933,
perhaps in reaction to the election of the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt
After American entry into World War II, Bliss was called
out of retirement. He served as a consultant to the State Department in
1942 and 1943, as a special assistant to Secretary of State Cordell Hull
beginning in February 1944, and as a consultant to Secretary of State
Edward Stettinius beginning in December 1944. He again retired in November
Bliss and his wife collected pre-Columbian, medieval,
and Byzantine art. Many of their Byzantine pieces were acquired during
extensive travels in Greece and Turkey. In 1940 the Blisses donated
Dumbarton Oaks, their Georgian estate in Washington, D.C., together with a
specialized art research library of 50,000 volumes and a collection of
medieval and Byzantine art, to Harvard University. They later established
endowments for the maintenance of the estate as a museum of Byzantine art
and library. Bliss was cofounder of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library
and Collection. In 1944 the estate was the scene of an international
conference that worked out details for the creation of the United Nations.
In his retirement years Bliss engaged in many cultural
and civic pursuits. He was president of the American Federation of Arts
and the American Foreign Service Association. He was vice-chairman of the
Smithsonian Art Commission and the board of the National Trust for
Historic Preservation. He served as a director and first vice-president of
the Washington Criminal Justice Association and was on the Board of
Overseers of Harvard University (1939-1945).