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Madeleine Korbel Albright ( 1937 - )  Category ( Political_Leaders ) [suggest a correction]
 

Madeleine AlbrightMadeleine Korbel Albright was the first female Secretary of State for the United States. She was appointed during the first administration of President Bill Clinton. She was sworn in on January 23, 1997.

A woman of many accomplishments, she did not discover her true identity until late in life. She was born Marie Jana Korbelova, in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Her parents were Josef Korbel, a Czech diplomat, and Anna Spieglova. The couple also had two other children, Katherine, and John. While her family was somewhat highly placed, their connections would not spare their lives if their true ethnicity was discovered. The Korbel/Korbelov family was Jewish, and members of that ethnicity and faith were living in dangerous times.

The rise of Hitler forced the family into exile, due to their background and Albright's father's connections with Czech democratic movements. Just before they left their homeland, her parents converted to Roman Catholicism, and the children were raised in that faith. Albright spent the years of World War II living in London, where she and her family endured and survived The Blitz. While the family was in England, young Madeleine portrayed a refugee child in a film that encouraged support and sympathy for war refugees in London.

Once the Nazis were defeated the Korbel family returned to Prague, where her father took up a position in the new government. Later, her father was named Czechoslovak Ambassador to Yugoslavia, which had become a communist country. The family then moved to Belgrade. Her father was worried that his children would be influenced by the Yugoslavian Marxist ideology, and he hired a governess to teach his children. Later, Albright was sent to a private school in Switzerland, where she learned French and began to use the French version of her name, Madeleine.

When the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1948, her father lost his position. He was next hired by the United Nations and sent his family to live in the United States. The family applied for political asylum, and with some connections at Columbia University, they were able to remain in the country. Korbel accepted a teaching position at the University of Denver, in Denver, Colorado, where he later became dean of a school named in his honor. Albright enrolled in the Kent Denver School. Upon high school graduation she attended Wellesley College, on a full scholarship. She majored in political science and graduated in 1959.

During a break from college, Albright was at home, working as an intern for The Denver Post. It was here that she met her future husband, Joseph Medill Patterson Albright. The couple married in 1959, and Albright followed as her husband completed his military service. During the next few years, she worked as a newspaper reporter, and once the couple moved to Chicago, in 1960, as a picture editor for Encyclopedia Britannica. The next year, Albright gave birth to the couple's twin daughters. The babies were born premature, requiring an extensive hospital stay. As a way to keep worries at bay, Albright began studying Russian at nearby Hofstra University. By 1962, the family was living in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C.

Albright began studying international relations at Johns Hopkins University. In 1967, the couple had another daughter, but Albright continued her studies; this time at Columbia University, where she completed a Ph.D. in international relations. She then began working as a fundraiser for her daughters' school. She was soon invited to hold positions on education boards and to help organize a fund-raising dinner for the presidential candidate, Ed Muskie. When one of Albright's former professors was recruited to the Jimmy Carter presidential administration, Albright was recruited to work in the White House as the National Security Council's congressional liaison.

Once the Carter administration ended, Albright turned her efforts to activism, traveling to Eastern Europe and interviewing political dissidents. By the early 1980s, Albright was a faculty member at Georgetown University. In 1993, Bill Clinton nominated her as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. This was her first diplomatic position. Following Clinton's re-election, in 1996, Albright became the first female United States Secretary of States, and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. She proved to be an effective leader, and influenced American policy in central and eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East. In the process, she angered some, but largely remained a popular figure within and without the diplomatic community.

During her tenure she represented the United States at the Transfer of Sovereignty over Hong Kong. In 2000, she became one of only a few Western diplomats to meet North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il.


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