A celebration of Women’s History Month would not be complete without talking about and honoring Madeleine Albright.
Madeleine Albright, who fled the Nazis as a child in her native Czechoslovakia during World War Two then rose to become “A force said U.S. President Joe Biden and a pop culture feminist icon, died on Wednesday at the age of 84.
Born Marie Jana Korbelova in Prague on May 15, 1937, her family fled in 1939 to London when Germany occupied Czechoslovakia. She attended school in Switzerland at age 10 and adopted the name Madeleine
She was raised a Roman Catholic but after she became secretary of state, the Washington Post dug up documentation showing that her family was Jewish and relatives, including three grandparents, died in the Holocaust. Her parents likely converted to Catholicism from Judaism to avoid persecution as Nazism gained strength in Europe, the paper reported.
After the war, the family left London and returned to Czechoslovakia, then in the throes of a communist takeover.
Her father, a diplomat and academic who opposed communism, moved the family to the United States where he taught international studies at the University of Denver. One of his favorite students was Condoleezza Rice, who would become the second female secretary of state in 2005 under Republican President George W. Bush.
“It is quite remarkable that this Czech émigré professor has trained two secretaries of state,” Albright told the New York Times in 2006.
Albright had a long and storied career in foreign policy, serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1993-97. Albright’s tenure prompted a shift in the way women diplomats were viewed at the U.N. She proved adept at making complicated foreign policy accessible to the public.
The United Nations Security Council members stood in silence to honor her memory.
Albright’s experience as a refugee prompted her to push for the United States to use its superpower clout. She wanted a “muscular internationalism,” said James O’Brien, a senior adviser to Albright.
Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani called Albright “Kosovo’s great friend,” adding that the intervention “gave us hope, when we did not have it.”
Albright became the first female secretary of state. As secretary of state, Albright promoted the eastward expansion of NATO and the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
Albright is also credited with making the State Department a more inclusive place, noting she was the first to put Ramadan on the department’s calendar and encouraged the State Department to begin a conversation about Islam where religion was something the department “wasn’t supposed to talk about.”
As chief diplomat in the late ’90s, Albright pushed for military intervention in confronting the deadly targeting of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Time magazine dubbed it ‘Madeleine’s War’; airstrikes in 1999 eventually led to the withdrawal of Serbian forces.
Albright also helped to bring Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into NATO, a crowning diplomatic achievement.
In 2012, Albright was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
“I am still here and have much more I intend to do,”
“As difficult as it might seem, I want every stage of my life to
be more exciting than the last.”
Albright became an icon to a generation of young women looking for inspiration in their quest for opportunity and respect in the workplace. Albright was fond of saying: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
Albright was a marked contrast to her predecessors and male colleagues in uniform suits. She used clothes and jewelry to send tart, political messages. One favorite was a snake brooch, a reference to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein calling her an “unparalleled serpent.”
She wrote a book about her signature jewelry, one of several bestsellers, explaining that the pins were a diplomatic tool. Balloons or flower pins would indicate she felt optimistic, while a crab or turtle would indicate frustration.
Albright attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and got a doctorate from Columbia University. She became fluent or close to it in six languages including Czech, French, Polish and Russian as well as English.
Madeleine Albright was the mother of three daughters and six grandchildren. In an interview, Madeleine Albright shared this quote:
“My youngest granddaughter, when she turned 7, said to her mother,
‘So what’s the big deal about Grandma Maddie being secretary of state?
Only girls are secretary of state.”
March 25, 2022