Barbara M. Watson, businesswoman, lawyer, government executive, and diplomat, was born in New York City, New York on November 5, 1918. She was the daughter of James S. Watson, the first black judge elected in New York State, and his wife, Violet Lopez Watson, one of the founders of the National Council of Negro Women. Barbara M. Watson was the sister of James Lopez Watson and the cousin of General Colin L. Powell, the former U.S. Secretary of State.
After graduating from Barnard College in 1943, she took a job as an interviewer for the United Seamens Service. In 1946, she founded a modeling agency and charm school, Barbara Watson Models, serving as the agencys executive director until 1956.
Watson served as coordinator of Student Activities at Hampton Institute. Upon graduation from New York Law School in 1962 she worked as an attorney with three New York City government agencies; the Board of Statutory Consolidation of the City of New York, the Office of the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, and as director of the New York City Commission to the United Nations.
Watson joined the United States Department of State in 1966 as special assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration. She then became Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Security and Consular Affairs and served as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Security and Consular Affairs from 1966 to 1968.
She was the first black Assistant Secretary of State and the first woman to serve as Assistant Secretary of State.
In July 1968, President of the United States Lyndon Johnson nominated Watson as Assistant Secretary of State for Security and Consular Affairs. The U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment. She held this office from August 1968 until November 1974 when she resigned from the post. The Nixon Administration had sought earlier to replace Miss Watson, a Democrat, with a Republican appointee.
At the beginning of 1975, Watson took a job with Walter Annenbergs Triangle Publications as a legal consultant. She