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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First woman to become a United States Secretary of State


Madeleine Korbel Albright (born May 15, 1937) is the first woman to become a United States Secretary of State. She was appointed by U.S. President Bill Clinton on December 5, 1996, and was unanimously confirmed by a U.S. Senate vote of 99-0. She was sworn in on January 23, 1997.Albright now serves as a Professor of International Relations at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service. Her PhD is from Columbia University. She holds honorary degrees from Brandeis University (1996); the University of Washington (2002); Smith College (2003); University of Winnipeg (2005); the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2007), and Knox College (2008).Secretary Albright also serves as a Director on the Board of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Albright is fluent in English, French, Russian, and Czech; she speaks and reads Polish and Serbo-Croatian as well.Albright was born in the Smíchov district of Prague, Czechoslovakia. At the time of her birth, Czechoslovakia had been independent for less than twenty years, having gained independence from Austria after World War I. Her father, Josef Korbel, was a Czech Jewish diplomat and supporter of the early Czech democrats, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Edvard Beneš. She was his first child with his Jewish wife, Anna (née Spieglová), who later also had another daughter Katherine (a schoolteacher) and son John (an economist).

At the time of Albright’s birth, her father was serving as press-attaché at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Belgrade. However, the signing of the Munich Agreement in March 1938 and the disintegration of Czechoslovakia at the hands of Adolf Hitler forced the family into exile because of their links with Beneš.Prior to their flight, Albright's parents had converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism. Albright spent the war years in England, while her father worked for Beneš’s Czechoslovak government-in-exile. They first lived on Kensington Park Road in Notting Hill, London, where they endured the worst of The Blitz, but later moved to Beaconsfield, then Walton-on-Thames, on the outskirts of London. While in England, a young Albright appeared as a refugee child in a film designed to promote sympathy for all war refugees in London.
 
Albright was raised Catholic, but converted to Episcopalianism at the time of her marriage in 1959. Albright did not learn until late in life that her parents were Jewish and that many of her Jewish relatives in Czechoslovakia perished in The Holocaust, including three of her grandparents.

Albright returned to Washington in 1968, and commuted to Columbia for her PhD, which she received in 1975.She began fund-raising for her daughters' school, involvement which led to several positions on education boards.She was eventually invited to organize a fund-raising dinner for the 1972 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Ed Muskie of Maine. This association with Muskie led to a position as his chief legislative assistant in 1976.However, after the 1976 U.S. presidential election of Jimmy Carter, Albright's former professor Brzezinski was named National Security Advisor, and recruited Albright from Muskie in 1978 to work in the West Wing as the National Security Council’s congressional liaison.Following Carter's loss in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, Albright moved on to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where she was given a grant for a research project. She chose to write on the dissident journalists involved in Poland's Solidarity movement, then in its infancy but gaining international attention.She traveled to Poland for her research, interviewing dissidents in Gdansk, Warsaw and Krakow. Upon her return to Washington, her husband announced his intention to divorce her for another woman.

Albright was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, her first diplomatic post, shortly after Clinton was inaugurated, presenting her credentials on February 9, 1993. During her tenure at the U.N., she had a rocky relationship with the U.N. Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whom she criticized as "disengaged" and "neglect[ful]" of genocide in Rwanda.Albright wrote:
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.
In Shake Hands with the Devil, Roméo Dallaire claims that in 1994, in Albright's role as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N., she avoided describing the killings in Rwanda as "genocide" until overwhelmed by the evidence for it;this is now how she describes these massacres in her memoirs. She was instructed to support a reduction or withdrawal (something which never happened) of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Rwanda but was later given more flexibility.Albright later remarked in PBS documentary Ghosts of Rwanda that
it was a very, very difficult time, and the situation was unclear. You know, in retrospect, it all looks very clear. But when you were [there] at the time, it was unclear about what was happening in Rwanda."

When Albright took office as the 64th U.S. Secretary of State on January 23, 1997, she became the first female U.S. Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government.Not being a natural-born citizen of the U.S., she was not eligible as U.S. Presidential successor and was excluded from nuclear contingency plans. In her position as Secretary of State, Albright reinforced the U.S.'s alliances; advocated democracy and human rights; and promoted American trade and business, labor and environmental standards abroad.
Madeleine Albright serves as an Honorary Chair for the World Justice Project. The World Justice Project works to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the Rule of Law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.

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