Robert Woods Bliss (1875–1962)
Robert Woods Bliss was an American diplomat, art collector, philanthropist, and cofounder of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C. He was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, on August 5, 1875, the son of William Henry Bliss and Anna Louisa Woods Bliss and the brother of Annie Louise Bliss Warren. When his father remarried in 1894, he became the stepson of Anna Barnes Bliss and the stepbrother of Cora Barnes and Mildred Barnes. He reportedly attended preparatory schools in Virginia and Minnesota as well as at J. P. Hopkinson’s Private School in Boston in 1894–1895. He graduated from Harvard College with a bachelor of arts degree in 1900. Robert Woods Bliss worked in the office of the secretary of the United States civil government in Puerto Rico and served as the private secretary to the governor of Puerto Rico between 1901 and 1903. After passing the State Department qualifying examination in 1903, he entered diplomatic foreign service. Robert Woods Bliss married Mildred Barnes on April 14, 1908. As a career diplomat, he served as U.S. consul in Venice (1903), second secretary to the U.S. Embassy in Saint Petersburg (1904–1907), secretary of the legation in Brussels (1907–1909), secretary of the legation in Buenos Aires (1909–1912), secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Paris (1912–1916), and counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Paris (1916–1919). He was a delegate to the 1908 international conference to consider the revision of the arms and ammunition regulations of the General Act of Brussels of July 2, 1890, and he was temporarily assigned to serve as chargé d’affaires at the U.S. legation in The Hague, in 1918. He became chief of the Division of Western European Affairs (1920) and third assistant secretary of state (1921–1923) at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., before becoming U.S. minister to Sweden (1923–1927) and U.S. ambassador to Argentina (1927–1933). He retired from the diplomatic foreign service after completing his post in Argentina. During the Second World War, however, he became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a consultant to the Department of State in Washington, D.C. (1942–1943), a special assistant to Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1944), and a consultant to Secretary of State Edward Settinius (1944–1945). He retired from government work for a second time in November 1945. Robert Woods Bliss was president (1938–1941) and honorary president and trustee (1945–1962) of the American Federation of Arts, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, the vice chairman of the Smithsonian Art Commission, the vice chairman of the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the director and first vice president of the Washington Criminal Justice Association, and a member of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the Board of Overseers of Harvard University. He was a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, a trustee and executive committee member of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington, D.C., a trustee of Nelson Rockefeller’s Museum of Primitive Art in New York, a trustee of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, an honorary committee member of the American British Art Center in New York, and a member of the Advisory Committee on Art in the Division of Cultural Relations and the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs at the Department of State. He received honorary Doctor of Law degrees from the University of Missouri (1933), Syracuse University (1934), and Harvard University (1951). Mildred Barnes Bliss and Robert Woods Bliss cofounded the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, which they endowed and donated to Harvard University in 1940. Robert Woods Bliss was one of five retired diplomats who cosigned a 1954 letter protesting Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attacks on the Foreign Service. The Blisses had no children. Robert Woods Bliss died of cancer at the age of eighty-six in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1962.
James N. Carder, "Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss: A Brief Biography," in A Home of the Humanities: The Collecting and Patronage of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ed. James N. Carder (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010), 1–23.
James N. Carder, "Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection," in Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ed. Asen Kirin (Athens: Georgia Museum of Art , 2005), 23–37.
Susan Tamulevich, Dumbarton Oaks: Garden into Art (New York: Monacelli Press, 2001).