Madeleine Albright was the United States’ first female Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the US government.
Profession: Former US Secretary of State
Country of Origin: Czech Republic
Country of Asylum: United States of America
Date of birth: 15 May 1935
She was born Marie Jana Korbelova (Madeleine is the anglicised form of Madlenka, her childhood nickname). Twice, the Korbels were forced from their homeland due to political turmoil. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia during World War II, the family fled to England. They returned to Prague when Albright’s father, a diplomat, took a position with his government in the brief period between the liberation from the Germans and the Communist coup of 1948. However, because of the Communist takeover, the Korbels once again had to leave the country.
They immigrated to the United States in 1948 when Albright was 11 years old, and settled in Denver, Colorado, where her father took a teaching position in international relations at the University of Denver. In her Denver high school, Albright – then Madeleine Korbel – won a UN-sponsored competition by correctly naming all the organisation’s member states.
Though raised as a Catholic and later married into the Episcopal Church, reports in the wake of her nomination to Secretary of State suggested that Albright has Jewish ancestry. Birth certificates and records unearthed in Europe indicated that many of the family’s relatives who stayed in Europe, including Albright’s grandparents on both sides, died in concentration camps.
Albright attended Wellesley College and soon after graduation, married Joseph Albright, the son of newspaper publishers. She went into politics, and in the following years she served, among other things, as the President of the Center for National Policy.
By 1988, Albright was advising Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. A few years later, President Bill Clinton named her as his Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Albright was nominated as Secretary of State by President Clinton on December 5, 1996. After being unanimously confirmed by the US Senate, she was sworn in as the 64th Secretary of State on January 23, 1997.
In 1998, Albright commemorated 50 years in the United States by speaking at a naturalisation ceremony for nearly 100 new American citizens. Reflecting on her own background as a refugee, she said to the group: “Today marks a new beginning in your lives. And an ongoing chapter in the story of America which is, above all else, the story of immigrants”.