Madeleine Albright: First Female Secretary of State, U.S.A.

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Madeleine Albright: First Female Secretary of State, U.S.A.

MadeleineAlbright2We begin our #WeAreImmigrants campaign with one of the most fascinating and empowering immigrant stories. Madeleine Albright was the first Secretary of State of the United States of America and when appointed to this role in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, she was the highest-ranking woman in U.S. history. But her beginnings were much humbler than this—in fact, it’s hard to imagine how she got to the exalted position that she has now attained given that when she was born, her family was on the wrong side of the former government of Czechoslovakia before World War II.

Because of Albright’s father’s close association with the Czech democrats when Adolf Hitler instigated the disintegration of Czechoslovakia, her family had to go into exile to London, where they continued to support the Czech government-in-exile. Even though Albright’s parents converted to Catholicism, her family was Jewish, and many—including three of her grandparents—perished during the Holocaust. After World War II, Albright’s family moved back to Prague until her father was named as the Czechoslovakian Ambassador to Yugoslavia, where Communists were in power. Due to the fear of Communist influence, Albright was sent away to Lake Geneva, Switzerland, where she learned French and changed her name from “Marie Jana” to “Madeleine”.

When the Communist Party took control of Czechoslovakia, Albright’s father obtained a UN position and moved the family to the United States, where they entered through Ellis Island and settled on Long Island, New York, and then Denver, Colorado. Albright finished grade school in Denver, attended the Wellesley College in Massachusetts on a full scholarship, majoring in political science, and became a U.S. citizen two years before she graduated from college in 1957.

Her path to Secretary of State was long and convoluted, as she went from serving on a few education boards in Washington D.C. to serving as Senator Ed Muskie’s (D-Maine) legislative assistant. A former professor of hers recruited her to work as the Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council’s congressional liaison. At this point, she branched off into research and education, joining the Smithsonian Institute, then teaching Eastern European studies at Georgetown University. She stayed connected to politics however, advising Vice-Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis before she was recruited to help transition President Bill Clinton’s administration at the National Security Council.

MadeleineAlbright5This is where her major diplomatic career began. President Clinton nominated Albright to the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, where she clashed with the UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and handled the U.S. response to the Rwandan genocide. Albright definitely was a blunt Secretary of State: in response to Cuban military pilots shooting down civilian aircrafts in 1996, she remarked, “This is not cojones. This is cowardice,” which led President Clinton to admiringly say it was “probably the most effective one-liner in the whole administration’s foreign policy.” Soon after, he appointed her to be the 64th U.S. Secretary of State on January 23, 1997.

As Secretary of State, she became integral in Bosnia and Herzegovina policy, as well as the Middle East. She argued for the use of military force in Iraq, met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il—making her one of the most powerful Western diplomats ever to do so—and was given the U.S. Senator H. John Heinz III Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official. After she left the position of Secretary of State in 2001, then-Czech President Vaclav Havel spoke candidly on the fact that Albright might succeed him as president. However, she never aspired to political office in the Czech Republic, and instead has focused on many global projects over the years since her diplomatic service.

She has written five New York Times bestsellers, taught at Georgetown University and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama since her tenure as Secretary of State. She has also been an outspoken advocate for women’s leadership and human rights, and the audacity that got her a position on President Clinton’s Cabinet has also attained her much controversy in the years after. During the 2016 election season, Albright came under fire for making the statement that, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” She has also spoken out in opposition of President Trump’s recent immigration ban.

Madeleine Albright is just one of the many immigrants who have shaped the United States—quite literally dictating America’s foreign policies. BlueTone’s primarily immigrant customer base is extremely important to the United States, and to all of the countries that you inhabit. We believe the future will depend heavily on immigrant contributions, just as the past has.

Nisha Katti

About Nisha Katti

Nisha Katti is BlueTone's Marketing Coordinator. She specializes in content writing and social media management, among other activities. Nisha is a native of Atlanta, yet her heart will always lie with the magnificent magnolias of Athens, Georgia, where she attended the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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