Madeleine Albright (born Marie Jana Korbelová; May 15, 1937) was the first woman to become the United States Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. foreign service. But who knew that she was an accomplished pianist who used to play in Washington DC nightclubs?
Or that her father, Josef Korbel, was an active member of the Czech resistance during World War II? Here are 8 things you don’t know about Madeleine Albright, one of America’s most interesting political figures.
1) Madeleine Albright had an interesting childhood
Born Marie Jana Korbelová in Prague, Czechoslovakia, she was raised Catholic in a Jewish family. Her father, who worked for a bank, died when she was 8 years old and her mother suffered from poor health throughout her life.
When Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II (1939-1945), Albright’s family fled to London and then moved to Pittsburgh in 1948 after being sponsored by an aunt. A talented student, she graduated from Wellesley College at age 20 and earned a master’s degree from Columbia University two years later.
2) She became the first female Secretary of State
Albright was confirmed by unanimous consent as Secretary of State in 1997, becoming not only the first female Secretary of State but also, at age 57, also one of its youngest.
And when she was sworn in on January 23, 1997 (by Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), she became one of only three people to have held all four top cabinet positions—Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
She’s a record-breaker: In addition to being just one year shy of 60 years old when she took office (making her its oldest secretary), it was also the first time a person born in what is now Czechoslovakia served as U.S. secretary of state. What other countries has she visited?
3) She has been a diplomat for 60 years
Madeleine Korbel Albright was born on May 15, 1937, in Prague. Her family left Czechoslovakia in 1948 when she was 10 years old and settled in Denver, Colorado. She worked as a researcher at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs and graduated with honors from Wellesley College in 1959.
After her graduation, she taught political science at Georgetown University while working toward her doctorate there. She then moved to Maryland to work as an assistant professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
4) She experienced some bad moments in life
at age 10, her father was attacked and crippled by a German soldier; during World War II, she lost family members in concentration camps. Her sister was killed during an Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.
But things turned around for her in 1963 when she earned a Fulbright scholarship to study at Columbia University’s School of International Affairs, where she received her PhD. In 1975, after completing another master’s degree at Georgetown University, she became director of Czechoslovakia’s affairs at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
From 1993 to 1997, Albright served as US ambassador to The United Nations under President Bill Clinton. She held that position again from 1997 until 2001 and then became secretary of state – making her the first woman to hold that position since Condoleezza Rice.
5) Her husband passed away in 1997
When President Clinton nominated her to become Secretary of State in 1996, she was married to Joseph Medill Patterson Beu (an American publisher). Sadly, he passed away in 1997. They had no children together.
She was born in Czechoslovakia: Born on May 15, 1937, she spent most of her childhood living in Czechoslovakia until it split into two countries after World War II.
She moved with her family to London and later to Washington D.C., where she completed college at Wellesley College and earned a PhD from Columbia University. She is fluent in English and French: Fluent in English and French, as well as conversational German, Russian, and Czech (her native language), Albright went on to teach political science at various universities before joining politics herself.
6) She is an author, speaker, and TV presenter
Albright is currently a professor of International Relations at Georgetown University and has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2016, she was named by Secretary of State John Kerry to be an Honorary Citizen of the United States. She is also an author; her latest book, Fascism: A Warning, was published in 2018.
And if all that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she’s also an experienced TV presenter who has presented for The Travel Channel and National Geographic Explorer. In 2019, she will become one of four judges on season six of Top Chef: Texas (you read that right).
7) She won Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018
Time’s Person of the Year is a designation given to an individual or group of people who have, for better or for worse, do the most to influence events during a given year. It was first awarded in 1927 and made its final appearance in 1999. At that time it was converted into an award given out annually by Time magazine.
8) YouTube video featuring her famous saying
There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women on Late Night with David Letterman (April 12, 2013) where she also promoted her book: Madam Secretary.
And, yes, I was shocked at how young and cute she was. Imagine being 15 years old in 1948 and having Eleanor Roosevelt sitting next to you at dinner. That happened to me! 🙂 Or imagine being 18 and having dinner with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (that really happened!). Or imagine meeting Jacqueline Kennedy when she is First Lady of the United States? Wow! Wow! And triple wow!
Where did Madeleine Albright go to college?
She went to Wellesley College. It’s a prestigious women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts. What did she study?: She studied history and learned French and Russian, which came in handy later on in her life. She then earned a master’s degree at Columbia University, where she wrote her thesis on Stalin and his daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva. How old was Madeleine Albright when she got married?: She got married when she was 29 years old.
How many languages does Madeleine Albright speak?
I speak Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, and English. I can get by in French and Italian. And I have a very good interpreter who can translate from Chinese and Japanese. (1)