Madeleine Albright, one of the most influential stateswomen of her generation, has passed away at 84-years-old. During her inspirational and historic lifetime, she was the first female secretary of state in United States history.
Albright was a Czech immigrant who came to the United States as an 11-year-old political refugee. She went on the serve as the country’s top diplomat under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001.
“She was surrounded by family and friends,” her family said in a statement. “We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.”
Albright is often hailed as a “champion of democracy.” Those who worked with Albright remember her as an effective communicator who explained international issues with clarity, a “gatherer of people,” a “no-nonsense” negotiator, and a feminist icon.
Albright always fought for women’s rights internationally and believed that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” She faced a lot of scrutiny from women in her life when she was in graduate school while her children were so young. In an interview with TIME in 2016, Albright said, “It had not occurred to me, frankly, that I would ever be in a position to break a glass ceiling — particularly a woman who’s married and the mother of twins but the turning point did come.”
Albright did have a bit of a tough childhood. Her father was a Czech diplomat who left Czechoslovakia for England with his family in 1939, shortly after the Nazis invaded the country. They returned after the war, but had to leave again in 1948 when the communists gained back power. Albright later learned that her family was Jewish and most of her family members who remained in Czechoslovakia during the war were killed in the Holocaust.
Albright was a United States citizen by 1957 and graduated from Wellesley College with honors in 1959. She later married Joseph Medill Patterson Albright and wanted to pursue a career in journalism just as he did. Then her husband’s editor told her that working at the same place as her husband would violate labor regulations and working at a competing newspaper in the city would be unseemly.
Eventually, Albright earned her Ph.D. in public law and government at Columbia University in 1976 under Zbigniew Brzezinski, who later brought her to National Security Council when he became National Adviser to President Jimmy Carter.
Albright became an influential voice in the Democratic Party in time. She was a foreign policy advisor to Democratic nominees Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, during the 1976 presidential campaign. In 1993, Albright was appointed US ambassador to the United Nations by President Bill Clinton.
Albright was confirmed by the Senate on January 22, 1997, without opposition. As Secretary of State, she supported the expansion of NATO and led the call for military intervention as Kosovo fought for independence from Serbia. She also negotiated with Kim Jong II in Pyongyang about nuclear weapons and promoted women’s rights.
Albright returned to the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, after leaving public office. She was a professor in the practice of diplomacy. She also wrote a total of six books in her lifetime.
Albright remained a powerful and influential voice in policy debates until her death. We send our deepest condolences to her family and may her soul rest in peace. She will be missed, but her incredible legacy will live on forever. RIP.