Millicent Fenwick, née Hammond, was born in New York City, the daughter of a wealthy financier and New Jersey state legislator. When she was a small child, she lost her mother in the sinking of the U.S.S. Lusitania by a German U–boat. She attended the elite Foxcroft and Nightingale-Bamberg School, and accompanied her father to Madrid when he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Spain. In 1929, she attended Columbia University and later studied at the New School for Social Research. In 1934, she married businessman Hugh Fenwick, with whom she had two children before separating; they later divorced. Striking out on her own, she modeled briefly for Harper’s Bazaar and then took a job as associate editor of Vogue magazine. In 1948, she wrote Vogue’s Book of Etiquette, which sold more than a million copies. She left Vogue in 1952 and inherited a fortune on the death of her father a few years later.
She worked on the 1954 campaign of Republican Senate candidate Clifford Case and was a member of the Bernardsville borough council. In 1970, at age 59, in her first campaign for public office, she won a seat in the New Jersey state assembly. Governor William Cahill appointed her the state’s first director of consumer affairs. In 1974, she won election to the U.S. House of Representatives by a handy majority. Her elegant manners, outspokenness, and wit made her popular among voters and especially female colleagues such as Bella Abzug of New York. She won a seat on the Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1979 after years of persistent efforts. After she left office in 1983, President Reagan appointed her to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, where she served as United States Representative with rank of ambassador from 1983 to 1985.