Late Bloomers


Happy Birthday, Madeleine Albright, First Female Secretary of State

May 15, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. secretary of state, served as the face of U.S. foreign policy during Bill Clinton's second term as president. This hardworking politician also has several academic honors on her resume as well.

Madeleine Albirght's Early Days

Born Marie Jana Korbel on May 15, 1937, the future Madeleine Albright was the eldest of the Korbels’ three children. Her father, Josef Korbel, was a Czechoslovakian diplomat prior to World War II. When the Nazis invaded in 1939, Madeleine’s family moved to England, reports Britannica.

Raised as a Catholic, Albright claimed that she was unaware of her Jewish ancestry—and that three of her grandparents had died in concentration camps—until a reporter broke the story some 58 years later. According to The New York Times, her apparent ignorance of her origins angered many within the American Jewish community.

At war’s end, Josef Korbel went back to working for the Czech Communist government, but decided to defect after a few months. In 1948, the family was granted political asylum by the United States and settled in Colorado. Madeleine attended the prestigious Kent School for Girls and then Wellesley College in 1955. By the time she graduated in 1959, she was engaged to publishing heir Joseph Albright.

Notable Accomplishments

Soon after her marriage, she gave birth to twin daughters, Alice and Anne, followed by a third daughter, Katherine. While raising her children, Albright achieved an M.A. (1968) and Ph.D. (1976) from Columbia University's Department of Public Law and Government.

After years spent studying politics, she finally made it her career in 1976 when she served as Chief Legislative Assistant to Democratic Senator Edmund S. Muskie. In 1978, she gave up this position to serve as a staff member for both the National Security Council and the White House, where she was in charge of foreign policy legislation.

In 1981, Albright was awarded a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. During the 1980s, she was also senior fellow for Soviet and Eastern European affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and research professor of international affairs and director of the women in foreign service program at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

President Clinton appointed Albright the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1993, and she spent four years in that position. On January 23, 1997, Albright became the 64th secretary of state and the first woman to be appointed to that role.

The Rest of the Story

At the end of President Clinton’s second term, Madeleine Albright stepped down from her post as secretary of state. In a 2003 interview with USA Today, Albright spoke about her life and career, and promoted her new memoir, “Madam Secretary.”

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