Famous Diasporans: Madeleine Albright (Czech Republic)

64th United States Secretary of State

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was born Marie Jana Korbelová in Prague, Czechoslovakia on May 15, 1937 to Joseph Korbela, Czech diplomat, and his wife Anna. While serving as Czechoslovak Ambassador to communist Yugoslavia, Albright’s father became concerned his daughter would be indoctrinated with Marxist ideology at her school in Belgrade so he sent her to study in Switzerland. Here she learned French and went by Madeleine, the French version of her Czech nickname Madlenka.

Albright moved to the United States with her family when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia took over the government in 1948 and her father, a staunch opponent of communism, was forced from his diplomatic post. Albright graduated with a degree in Political Science from Wellesley College in 1955, writing her senior thesis on the Czech leader Zdeněk Fierlinger. While home with her family in Denver, Albright worked as an intern for The Denver Post, where she met Joseph Medill Patterson Albright whom she married shortly after graduation in 1959.

Albright began her political career in 1976 by working for the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Senator Edmund S. Muskie. Two years later she became a legislative liaison for the National Security Council at the request of her former professor Zbigniew Brzezinski.  Albright was employed to handle the transition to the Clinton administration at the National Security Council in 1992, and the following year President Clinton appointed her the US Ambassador to the United Nations.

In 1997 when President Clinton named her the 64th US Secretary of State, Albright become the highest ranked woman in the history of the US government.  However, since she was not a natural-born citizen of the United States, Albright was not eligible as a presidential successor and was excluded from nuclear contingency plans. As Secretary of State, Albright strengthened alliances, advocated democracy and human rights, and promoted American business, labor and environmental standards abroad.

Albright currently serves on the Council on Foreign Relations’ Board of Directors and on the International Advisory Committee of the Brookings Doha Center. She is also the Mortara Distinguished Professor of Diplomacy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC.

Albright has published four books including her memoir Madame Secretary, Memo to the President Elect, The Mighty and the Almighty, and Read My Pins.


Czech Trivia

Did You Know?

… The sugar cube was invented in the Czech town Dačice in 1843.

…The word “robot” comes from the Czech language (robota = “work”, “hard work” in some dialects) and was first introduced in Karel Čapek’s science-fiction play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots).

Clue for the Next Edition

This journalist was born in Mumbai (then Bombay) and has received honorary degrees from the University of Miami, Oberlin College, Bates College, Brown University, and Johns Hopkins University.