As we continue to commemorate Women’s History Month this March, it’s important to appreciate the women who inspire us today — not just the ones who made strides in the past. Yes, it’s crucial to understand history, lest we be doomed to repeat it. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that. However, there's far more to celebrate than history.
In just the past few months, we’ve lost powerhouses like Joan Didion, bell hooks, Eve Babitz, and Betty White. These women pioneered and paved the way for many freedoms we take for granted. And now Madeleine Albright is gone.
The news broke on March 23, 2022, that major political figure Madeleine Korbel Albright had passed away at the age of 84. In a statement released by her family, that said: “The cause was cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends.”
To celebrate her legacy and honor all her achievements, it’s important to take a backward glance at all she did and how deeply she impacted the world as we know it.
About Madeleine Albright
As a refugee who fled Prague to the US in 1948, Madeleine Albright was a testament to the American dream. Her father had been a democratic diplomat in Prague, so with Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the family was forced to flee. They first sought safety in London, enduring the Blitz before moving to the English countryside. In 1948, Albright’s family left for Ellis Island, settling in Long Island before moving to Denver, Colorado, and becoming a citizen in 1957.
From the very beginning, her life was informed by her hatred of totalitarianism and her belief in fairness and justice for all. Exposed to a number of cultures and various tragedies during her childhood, Albright used her diverse perspectives to champion change and democracy. From her undergraduate degree in Political Science at Wellesley College in Massachusetts to her first job at The Denver Post, she proved herself a formidable intellectual committed to understanding the inner workings of politics and actually doing something to find solutions.
She devoted the first decade of her career to education, earning a certificate in Russian and an M.A. with an emphasis on the Soviet diplomatic corps. Albright's doctoral dissertation focused on the Czechoslovak press in the Prague Spring of 1968.
When Albright moved to Washington DC in 1968, her political career soon took off. It started rather innocuously with a fund-raising dinner for the 1972 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Ed Muskie of Maine, which she helped organize. This association with Muskie led to a position as his chief legislative assistant in 1976. During the Carter Administration, she worked as a congressional liaison for the National Security Council.
When this brief interlude in politics ended with Carter's presidency, Albright found herself back in academia. She taught at Georgetown until 1993 when Clinton nominated her to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Immediately, she left her mark for her outspokenness about the Rwandan genocide. She later said, “My deepest regret from my years in public service is the failure of the United States and the international community to act sooner to halt these crimes.”
Notable Career Points
Her years in the United Nations led to her nomination for the first woman Secretary of State. In fact, she was to be the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government at that time. President Bill Clinton confirmed Albright on December 5, 1996. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and was sworn in on January 23, 1997. She served in the position for four years and concluded her service in January of 2001.
During her time, she distinguished herself in foreign policy and had major influence over Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Middle East. She fought for peace and security and envisioned democracy throughout the world. The Jefferson Awards Foundation awarded Albright a U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Public Service due to her enduring dedication to these causes.
Albright eventually returned to academia, while also using her platform to empower women in business, finance, and politics. In 2001, Albright was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She founded the Albright Group, a DC-based international strategy consulting firm. The years saw her pursue various avenues, always with an eye on politics and advocating for equality and democracy.
At the time of her death, Albright was a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She’s remembered for being a prominent foreign policy presence during the tumultuous period between the Cold War and 9/11. Her legacy reminds us that we can get through these current times with integrity and a keen eye towards democracy’s freedoms. For all this, she received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama.
Her criticisms of the Trump administration and the rising tide of totalitarianism in the US were emphatic to the very end. Her recent books — Fascism: A Warning and Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir — address the current political state quite astutely.
Speaking in her honor, former President Bill Clinton said: “Few leaders have been so perfectly suited for the times in which they served . . . As a child in war-torn Europe, Madeleine and her family were twice forced to flee their home. When the end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of global interdependence, she became America's voice at the UN, then took the helm at the State Department, where she was a passionate force for freedom, democracy, and human rights."
Madeleine Korbel Albright’s legacy remains a powerful reminder of female authority that we’re proud to memorialize during Women’s History Month.