Madeleine Albright, First Woman to Serve as U.S. Secretary of State, Dies at 84

Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, has died. She was 84. Her death was confirmed in a statement posted by her family to social media, which noted that the cause of death was cancer.

“She was surrounded by family and friends,” her family wrote on Twitter. “We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend.”

Albright, born Marie Jana Korbelová in 1937 in Prague, was the daughter of Jewish Czech parents. In 1941, fearing the Nazi regime, they converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, and Albright and her siblings were raised not knowing their Jewish ancestry. During World War II, her family lived in Britain and returned to Czechoslovakia after the war—but soon fled again, this time fleeing the communist regime. They arrived in the United States in 1948.

As Albright told the New York Times, when she learned of her family background in 1997, “I think my father and mother were the bravest people alive. They dealt with the most difficult decision anyone could make. I am incredibly grateful to them, and beyond measure.”

Albright attended Wellesley College, graduating in 1959, and married Joseph Medill Patterson Albright shortly after. In 1975, she earned a PhD in public law and government from Columbia University. Her master’s thesis focused on the Soviet diplomatic corps and her doctoral dissertation assessed the role of journalists in the Prague Spring of 1968.

After getting her PhD, Albright worked as an aide to Senator Edmund Muski, then worked with Polish American diplomat Zbigniew Brzezinski on the National Security Council until 1981. From there, she taught at Georgetown and served as a foreign policy advisor to Democratic candidates—former Senator Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota in 1984, Governor Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts in 1988, and Senator Bill Clinton in 1992.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Albright as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and in 1997, she became U.S. Secretary of State, a position she held until Clinton left office. In her 2003 memoir Madam Secretary, she 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,” referring to the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In addition to her memoir, she wrote four books, including Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box. In 2012, President Obama awarded Albright the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, saying her life was an inspiration to all Americans. Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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