The day after her unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Madeleine Albright is sworn in as America’s first female secretary of state by Vice President Al Gore at the White House. As head of the U.S. State Department, Albright was the highest ranking female official in U.S. history, a distinction that led some to declare that the “glass ceiling” preventing the ascension of women in government had been lifted.
Albright was born Maria Jana Korbelova in Czechoslovakia in 1937 and fled to the United States with her family in 1948 after the communist takeover. She studied law and government at Columbia University in New York City and graduated with a Ph.D. During the 1970s, she served as a staff member on the National Security Council and at the White House and in 1989 became president of the nonprofit Center for National Policy.
In January 1993, she was appointed the permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations by President Bill Clinton, where she earned a reputation as a tough, straight-talking negotiator with a personal touch. In December 1996, she was nominated by Clinton to replace Warren Christopher as secretary of state, the most important and powerful post in the president’s Cabinet. During her tenure, Albright demonstrated a strong grasp on world issues and impressive language skills (she spoke Czech, Polish, French and Russian).
On January 26, 2005, Condoleezza Rice was sworn in by President George W. Bush as the nation’s second female secretary of state. After stepping down from her post, Albright returned to teaching at Georgetown, accepted several board positions and became chair of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
On March 23, 2022, Albright died at age 84. Just one month before her death, she spoke out on the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine, writing in a New York Times op-ed Russian President Vladimir Putin would be making a "historic mistake" by invading Ukraine.