Refugees Changing the Country: Madeleine Albright

On November 11 marked a little-known anniversary in the United States: On that date 67 years ago, Madeleine Albright, likely the country’s most famous refugee, arrived in New York with her family.

Nearly 50 years later, the little refugee girl from Czechoslovakia, who had survived war and political persecution along with her family, would go on to become the highest-ranking woman in the United States and the first-ever female Secretary of State.

Born in 1937, Albright and her family were forced to flee their native Czechoslovakia after the country fell to Nazi Germany during World War II. She and her family spent the remainder of the war in London where they experienced the worst of the London Blitz. After the war, Albright and her family returned and her father became the Ambassador to Yugoslavia. Not long after the war, the new government of Czechoslovakia was overtaken by the Communist Party, to which her father was opposed.

Albright and her family left home again, this time as political asylees arriving in New York. Young Albright, much like her father, always had an interest in political science and international relations, and was a gifted student. She excelled early on and attended Wellesley on full scholarship. She would eventually obtain a Master of Arts and PhD at Columbia.

Eventually, Albright began to make a name for herself in the world of politics. What started as work to fundraise for her daughter’s education led to fundraising for political campaigns. When her former professor Zbigniew Brzezinksi became National Security Advisor during the Carter Administration, he tapped Albright to be the National Security Council’s Congressional Liaison.

During the Reagan years, Albright focused on education, teaching at Georgetown and advising both the Ferraro and Dukakis presidential campaigns.

In 1993, President Clinton brought her back to the world of national leadership when he appointed her as Ambassador to the United Nations, a role she held through difficult times including the Rwandan Genocide.

Soon, her leadership credentials led her to history. In 1997 after being confirmed unanimously by the Senate, Albright became the first-ever female Secretary of State. She became known for her skills in foreign policy, including overseeing Middle East peace talks, the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong, and expansion of NATO.

Since the end of the Clinton administration in 2001, Albright has continued to remain a world leader. She is a New York Times best-selling author of five books, serves on multiple boards (including as chair of the advisory council for The Hague Institute for Global Justice) and was awarded the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award available for a civilian.

She is still a tireless advocate for her fellow refugees.