Madeleine Albright, the First Female Secretary of State, Dies at 84
"Hers were the hands that turned the tide of history," President Biden said in a White House statement on Wednesday.
Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of State, died on Wednesday at the age of 84.
Albright was “a tireless champion of democracy and human rights,” her family wrote in a statement announcing her passing. “She was a native of Prague who came to the United States as a refugee in 1948 and rose to the heights of American policy-making, receiving the presidential medal of freedom in 2012, the nation’s highest civilian honor.”
Albright served on the staff of Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine, then took on a role on the National Security Council, where she served until 1981. Then in 1993, President Clinton appointed her ambassador to the United Nations. In 1997, she became the first female Secretary of State, a position she held until the end of the second Clinton administration.
"To make this country that she loved even better—she defied convention and broke barriers again and again," President Biden said in a White House statement on Wednesday. "In every role, she used her fierce intellect and sharp wit—and often her unmatched collection of pins—to advance America’s national security and promote peace around the world. 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."
In a statement mourning her passing, the American Foreign Service Association said that Albright "broke a very persistent glass ceiling when she became our nation’s first female Secretary of State in 1997. “She will be fondly remembered by the foreign service community.”
During her time at State, the department swallowed the U.S. Information Agency and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Also under her leadership, the department created a non-political appointment of a State science-adviser based on a recommendation from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
In January 1999, Albright vowed the department would do better to improve security and American diplomatic missions after terrorist bombers killed 224 people and injured more than 5,000 in and around the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in summer 1998.
“When the embassies were blown up it was my worst day,” Albright said during a 2004 Senate hearing. “I went to Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. In Nairobi I saw the rubble and I saw the suffering of the African people, many of whom were in hospitals as a result of what had happened, and obviously many were dead. And I then brought the bodies home of the dead Americans, and sat with the coffins and talked with the families when I came back. And so for me this was a horrendous moment and one that I was bound and determined to figure out why it had happened and what we could do about it.”
Then-Foreign Service Director General Ruth Davis said in November 2001 that the lack of women at the State Department caused work life to be more difficult, but she was a great admirer of Albright. “I can't tell you what it did for my morale" to have Albright, a woman followed by [Colin] Powell, an African American, as Secretary of State, she said.
Albright was secretary in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks after which she was part of the 9/11 Commission’s inquiries into what happened.
“We can't turn back the clock to before Sept. 11, but we must do everything we can to prevent similar tragedies, and we owe it to the families of the victims of 9/11 and to us all,” she said in March 2004.
Albright was a 2020 inductee into GovExec’s Government Hall of Fame.