Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton and the Trip to Africa, 1955


  • Aran MacKinnon


This article considers the opportunities that emerged during the 1950s for American interests in Africa through consideration of a unique story, that of Congresswoman Frances Bolton and her trip to Africa in 1955. Frances Payne Bolton (b. 1885, d. 1977) heiress to the Payne family Standard Oil fortune, and one of United States’ longest serving Congresswomen, made a significant though largely unrecognized contribution to shaping America’s cold war perspectives and policies on Africa.  Following the United States’ development with Congolese uranium of the atomic bomb in the early 1940s, Americans intensified their commercial and political interests in Africa. They did so in the context of rising African nationalism and continent-wide struggles for liberation from European colonial powers. American leaders then found themselves in a deeply ambiguous position vis-à-vis Africa and Africans, caught as they were between paying deference to European paternalist interests in the continent and largely unfulfilled aspirations to deal with the looming civil rights movement on the domestic front. The principal focus of the article is a consideration of Bolton’s remarkable and unprecedented three month tour of the African continent in 1955. During a critical period in African states’ struggles to gain independence, Bolton was deeply engaged in cultivating America’s growing interest in economic and political opportunities in post-colonial Africa As chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, her ‘Special Study Mission to Africa, South and East of the Sahara’ included stops in twenty-four countries and, meetings with African political leaders as well as colonial officials. Upon her return over the next year or so, Bolton penned a report of mission for Congress, and made a fascinating film chronicle – Africa: Giant with a Future, 1955. The article seeks to highlight significant facets of Bolton’s trip, and its influence on how Americans in and outside of government perceived Africa.