August 15, 2010

Character Icon: Madeleine Albright

So I find myself in Washington trying to figure out how to make a career work down here. It certainly is anything but easy. It seems to end up being all about who you know and whose campaign you worked on. That's fine. I am making in-roads as I can. In the process, I have been listening to people's stories of success here and trying to figure out how I can write my own story.

I was strolling through the Smithsonian Museum yesterday when I came upon an exhibit of Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's pins, or rather, brooches. Each pin represents a significant time in her career and a particular diplomatic message: the large, glittering American flag she wore to visit Kim Jong-Il in North Korea, the dazzling bumblebee to negotiate with Yassar Arafat, or the gold snake pin she wore after Saddam Hussein's government called her "a serpent." Details of each pin are depicted in Albright's book, Read My Pins.

I found this use of pins fascinating, and stopped by a nearby bookstore to browse her biography. Not only was she the first female secretary of state in the United States, but she was the first female to hold that high of an office in this country.

Albright was born in Czech Republic (she became a naturalized citizen, but was never part of the nuclear contingency plans for the president), and moved to the U.S with her family when she was in her teens after living all over Europe. Her father, a diplomat, eventually received a teaching position at the University of Denver. Albright attended Wellesley College on a full scholarship, and after graduation, moved back to Denver and worked as an intern at The Denver Post, where she met her husband, Joseph Albright, part of a major newspaper legacy. After they married, the couple moved to Chicago, where they both continued to work in the media, which later took them to New York City.

After the birth of their twin daughters, Albright enrolled in Russian language and international studies courses at a local university. After having a third daughter, she eventually earned her Master's and doctorate from Columbia University (after moving between NYC and Washington in the 1960s).

Um, she had three kids and earned a doctorate degree...there are no words for my admiration.

After to moving to Washington, DC with her family, Albright made a broader foray into politics by fundraising for Senator Ed Muskie (of Maine) presidential campaign, and she later earned a staff appointment with his team. Her career then moved swiftly from congressional liaison with the National Security Council to working on a research project of Polish dissidents with the Smithsonian Institution (during which her husband divorced her for another woman).

In the early 80s, she taught at Georgetown University and became a foreign policy advisor for the Democratic Party. In January 1993, President Clinton nominated her to be the Ambassador to the United Nations (during this post, she was criticized for her language around recognizing the 1994 Rwandan genocide and supporting the UN sanctions of Iraq during the Gulf War). In 1997, she received the nomination to be secretary of state with the Clinton administration.

I go into such detail about her biography because I am so impressed. She began her professional career at 39, raising three girls and weathering a divorce. It proves that it is never too late to educate oneself, make career moves, and follow a dream that could make a huge difference in this world.

She also guest starred on Gilmore Girls. She pretty much had the ideal career.

Image found here.


  1. "She also guest starred on Gilmore Girls."

  2. She is such a rock star. The picture you posted is great, I love that her 'statement accessory' actually says something meaningful.

  3. her pins are so much fun! i remember hearing about them on NPR when the book came out - i thought it was brilliant* what a great woman to admire. xx,jane


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