MAKERS Profile

Madeleine Albright

First Female Secretary of State

In this video

Albright on her late career start, building confidence, and holding her own with male statesmen.
The Washington Post recently asked Madeleine Albright about her place in history. “I have to laugh,” said America’s first female Secretary of State. She remembered her young granddaughter wondering “‘so what’s the big deal about Grandma Maddie having been Secretary of State? Only girls are Secretaries of State.’” Born in prewar Prague, Albright’s earliest years were defined by her family’s political flight—first from Hitler and, after 1948, from Czechoslovakia’s Communist government. Albright was a Wellesley alumna, a naturalized citizen, and had worked as a journalist by the time she became a mother for the first time in 1960. She spent the next 30 years simultaneously raising three daughters, obtaining graduate degrees and ascending to distinguished positions in the academic, political and foreign policy establishments. She served as Ambassador to the UN for President Clinton’s first term and was appointed Secretary of State at the start of his second term, thereby becoming the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government.  She played a powerful role in shaping the Clinton administration’s intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina while grappling with the other dizzying world events and crises of her tenure.    Since leaving government, she’s continued to advise presidents and her (yes, mostly female) successors, has sat on an array of corporate and philanthropic boards, and has launched her own commercial ventures. Meanwhile, she remains a proud immigrant, intellectual, and woman. Her famous brooches, which had been “part of my personal diplomatic arsenal” (as Secretary, she wore a snake during a during a meeting with Saddam Hussein), became the basis of 2009’s Read My Pins: Stories From A Diplomat’s Jewel Box.  

More From Madeleine

Each Woman's Challenge
Albright and her daughters know there's no one answer for working moms.

"Bad Hair Day"
Albright points out the benefits and downfalls of being a female Secretary of State when it comes to personal grooming.

Getting the Call
Albright describes learning she would be appointed Secretary of State and anxiously awaiting Clinton's official call.

Hillary's Recommendation
Why Albright owes her Secretary of State post to the former First Lady.

Unforgiving Women
Albright discusses some women's tendency to be even less sympathetic to their ambitious peers than men.

"Madames Cojones"
How Albright earned her nickname "Madame Cojones."

President Clinton's Encouragement
President Clinton explicitly gave Secretary Albright room to speak in cabinet meetings. 

Voice of the US
How Albright learned to shelve any lingering insecurities and speak up as the US Ambassador to the UN.

Youthful Letter
Albright reads from an old letter she wrote to herself as a college-educated, young mother struggling with her stalled career ambitions.

Divorces in the Class of '59
Albright describes the telling trends of divorce across various Wellesley classes.

College Leadership
Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright…why it's no coincidence that so many of our female leaders attended women's colleges like Wellesley.

WWII in Exile
Albright describes living through WWII in London and then fleeing communist-ruled Czechoslovakia for the US.