A scholar who became the first woman to serve as a U.S. secretary of state, Albright drew on her life experience and extensive knowledge of world affairs to champion human rights and gender equality around the world.
Madeleine Albright was born Marie Jana Körbel, a member of an established Jewish family in Prague,
During the war years, as German armies advanced across eastern Europe, Albright’s family fled to England. After the war ended in 1945, they returned briefly to Czechoslovakia, where her father, a noted scholar in international relations, entered the Czech diplomatic service as ambassador to Yugoslavia and Albania. However, after it became evident that her father was not in harmony with the communist regime that assumed rule in Czechoslovakia during the late 1940’s, her family became refugees a second time. In 1949, they immigrated to the United States and settled in Denver, Colorado. Madeleine’s father accepted a professorship at the University of Colorado in nearby Boulder. There he developed a distinguished international relations program and mentored two future U.S. secretaries of state–his own daughter and, later,
As a teenager, Madeleine adapted easily to American life, pleasing her father with her academic accomplishments. In the private girls school she attended in Denver, she was described as neither the brightest nor the prettiest but always the most highly motivated. It was thus not surprising when she matriculated on scholarship to Wellesley College in 1955. Active in campus organizations, she made lasting friends from different backgrounds. She also acquired the ultimate mark of acceptance for an immigrant woman of modest means when, a few days after her graduation from Wellesley. she married into one of America’s most prominent and wealthy families. Her journalist husband,
Throughout her marriage years, Albright suppressed her own ambitions while promoting the career of her husband. Meanwhile, she earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University, specializing, like her father, in international relations. She also acquired a second mentor,
Madeleine Albright in 1997.
In 1982, after twenty-two years of marriage, Joseph Albright left Madeleine for another woman. Traumatic as the divorce was for Madeleine, it enabled her for the first time to follow her own career path. Now firmly identified as “Albright,” she taught at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in the District of Columbia and advised Democrat politicians such as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate. Ferraro became a friend with whom Albright attended mass, when she briefly reverted to the Roman Catholicism of her childhood.
The election of
In 1997, President Clinton named Albright to the highest government office ever held by an American woman: U.S. secretary of state. The drama of her personal story, her charm, and even the jewelry she wore attracted wide press attention. More than most diplomatic officials, she was able to interest the general public in international issues. She traveled tirelessly, addressing a variety of pressing problems: ethnic conflicts in countries recently liberated from communism, the growth of religion-based terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the ever-present Middle Eastern tensions. Perhaps because she had herself escaped the prime European tyrants of the twentieth century, Germany’s Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union’s
Albright was much admired in Europe. As a patriotic American, she rejected
Albright, Madeleine. Madame Secretary: A Memoir. New York: Miramax, 2003. Revealing memoir in which Albright covers both her personal life and her professional career after she completed her term as U.S. secretary of state. _______. The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Accessible study of religious movements throughout the world and their political ramifications. Blackman, Ann. Seasons of Her Life: A Biography of Madeleine Korbel Albright. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998. Straightforward biography of Albright by an admirer. Dobbs, Michael. Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. Critical examination of Albright’s career by the journalist who uncovered the Korbel family’s Jewish past while Albright was secretary of state. Lippman, Thomas W. Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000. Balanced account of Albright’s relations with both world figures and journalists.
Czech and Slovakian immigrants
Religions of immigrants