Maria José de Castro was Brazil’s first female diplomat in 1918. She was also the first public servant in the country. She was born in Salvador, in the northeast of Brazil in 1891. When she was 20 years old, with her father dead and her mother sickly, she moved to Rio de Janeiro to support her family as a private teacher. Her early education had been good, and by that time she was fluent in German, French and English, besides Portuguese. In Rio, she heard about the opportunity of applying to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Her request was at first denied, but after her appeal, the Minister accepted her application to participate in the exams. That decision was amply publicized in newspapers, and Maria José was relentlessly pursued for interviews. Public opinion was divided on the appropriateness of the decision and on whether a woman should be allowed in the Ministry.
She ranked first place and started working in 1918. She died in 1936. Unfortunately, only 2 years, women were forbidden to enter the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only in 1953, this decision was repealed.