Remembering Madeleine Albright

Megan Swedberg, Scarlet Staff

On Wednesday, March 23, we suffered the loss of feminist icon Madeleine Albright. Twenty-five years after being sworn in as the 64th United States Secretary of State – the first woman to hold the position – Albright died from cancer at the age of 83 surrounded by her loving family and friends. 

A statement from her family said, “We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and  friend.” 

With Albright’s death coming just a few weeks before the end of Women’s History Month, it only seems right to remember the legacy she leaves behind. 

Albright and her family first came to the United States after fleeing from Prague in 1939 due to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. When World War 2 came to an end, they returned to Prague, only to again flee to the United States and settle in Colorado in 1948 due to the rise of Czechoslovakia’s communist government. In 1957, Albright, a refugee, became a U.S. citizen. She’d later describe herself in 2020 as a “grateful American.” 

Albright studied political science on a full scholarship at Wellesley College (here in  Massachusetts), graduating in 1959, and earned her Master’s in 1968 at Columbia University in  New York City. In 2010, she founded the Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley,  which to this day supports global engagement experiences for students through “internships, public lectures, and innovative academic programming.” 

Following her education, Albright went on to lead an impressive life, fundraising for Senator  Edmund Muskie’s 1972 presidential campaign before serving as his head legislative assistant. She then worked for President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, along with various nonprofits. Later, Albright taught as a respected professor of international affairs at Georgetown University. Among her many other achievements, she wrote an impressive collection of bestselling books, worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, and was appointed the 20th US Ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton presidency. 

Topping it all, Albright was unanimously appointed Secretary of State in 1997, becoming at that time the highest-ranking woman in U.S. history. She was a staunch supporter of democracy, but a fierce advocate for American military intervention.  

Regarding her position, Albright told PBS, “I believe in the goodness of American power. I believe that we have responsibilities. And that doesn’t mean that the United States has to be  everywhere, all the time, with everything, but that there are certain parts of the world, and certain  situations, including humanitarian disasters, where the presence of the States, in some form,  makes a huge difference.”


During her service as Secretary of State, one of Albright’s most notable efforts was her advocacy for bombings in Yugoslavia to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Yugoslav and Serbian forces. In what came to be called “Madeleine’s War”, the bombings in the Balkans ended with Yugoslavia agreeing to the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Albright was also known for her involvement in working to end North Korea’s nuclear program. She was the first U.S. diplomat to travel to North Korea and met with Kim Jong-il. 

Albright ended her service with the government in 2001 when Clinton’s second term came to a close. In recognition of her trailblazing, Albright was inducted into both the Colorado and  National Women’s Halls of Fame. She also received the Hanno R. Ellenberger Citizenship Award honoring dedication to public service and a Silver Jan Masaryk Honorary Medal from her home country at a ceremony in Prague. In 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama for distinguished service to the United States. 

Following her death, Albright’s legacy was praised by many prominent politicians. Bill Clinton called her “one of the finest Secretaries of State, an outstanding U.N. Ambassador, a brilliant professor, and an extraordinary human being”. George W. Bush said “she served with distinction as a foreign-born foreign minister who understood firsthand the importance of free societies for peace in our world.” Additionally, President Joe Biden profoundly stated that “America had no more committed champion of democracy and human rights than Secretary Albright, who knew personally and wrote powerfully of the perils of autocracy.” 

Many remembered Albright’s merit for her service. But her legacy has been a frequent subject of controversy. In 1996, she faced backlash after stating in an interview that the deaths of innocent children in Iraq due to U.S. sanctions that caused a lack of medication and food were worth the cause. She was also criticized for saying that “there is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other,” while advocating for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. Critics felt that Albright was suggesting that people should vote for Clinton simply because of her gender. Albright later apologized for the statement, acknowledging that she made it in poor context. 

Despite the controversy, Albright undoubtedly had a groundbreaking and distinguished career.  She has blazed a path for women, and so her name will forever go down in “herstory.”