Madeleine Albright, First Female U.S. Secretary of State, Dead at 84

Madeleine Albright
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Madeleine Albright's family said she died of cancer on March 23.

Madeleine Albright, the first female to become the United States secretary of state, has died. She was 84. 

Her death was confirmed on social media in a statement from her family. "We are heartbroken to announce that Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, the 64th U.S. Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that position, passed away earlier today," read the statement shared on Wednesday. "The cause was cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends. We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend."

The statement goes on to speak to her upbringing and achievements as a feminist icon.

"Madeleine Albright, born Marie Jana Korbelova, was a native of Prague who came to the United States as a refugee in 1948 and rose to the heights of American policy-making, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the nation's highest civilian honor," the statement continues. "A tireless champion of democracy and human rights, she was at the time of her death a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, part of Dentons Global Adbisors, chair of Albright Capital Management, president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, chair of the National Democratic Institute, chair of the U.S. Defense Policy Board, and an author."

The statement goes on to list even more of her accomplishments, noting, "She founded the Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley College, served as a lifetime trustee at The Aspen Institute, and was a member of the chapter of the Washington National Cathedral."

Albright was a force to be reckoned with when she worked under President Bill Clinton's administration. She was Clinton's secretary of state from 1997 to 2001 after previously serving as his U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997.

"She was a trailblazer as the first female secretary of state and quite literally opened doors for a large element of our workforce," said Ned Price, spokesman for the United States Department of State. "She took so many people under her wing ...It’s a really devastating piece of news."

Shortly after news broke of Albright's death, Clinton released a statement on behalf of himself and his wife, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which can be read in full below.

Hillary and I are profoundly saddened by the passing of Madeleine Albright. She was one of the finest Secretaries of State, an outstanding UN Ambassador, a brilliant professor, and an extraordinary human being. 

Few leaders have been so perfectly suited for the times in which they served.  As a child in war-torn Europe, Madeleine and her family were twice forced to flee their home.  When the end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of global interdependence, she became America’s voice at the UN, then took the helm at the State Department, where she was a passionate force for freedom, democracy, and human rights. 

Because she knew firsthand that America’s policy decisions had the power to make a difference in people’s lives around the world, she saw her jobs as both an obligation and an opportunity.  And she made the most of them in advancing peace, security, and shared prosperity: ending ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo; supporting the expansion of NATO into Central Europe; fighting the proliferation of nuclear weapons; broadening U.S. efforts to strengthen civil society, reduce poverty, and relieve debt in developing countries; elevating concerns about climate change and environmental degradation on the world stage; and much more.  And through it all, even until our last conversation just two weeks ago, she never lost her great sense of humor or her determination to go out with her boots on, supporting Ukraine in its fight to preserve freedom and democracy.  

Hillary and I will always be deeply grateful for the wonderful friendship we shared and the unfailingly wise counsel she gave us over so many years.   

Madeleine’s passing is an immense loss to the world in a time when we need the lessons of her life the most, but we know her legacy will live on through all the students she taught so well at Georgetown, everyone who was inspired by her remarkable journey from refugee to Secretary of State, and the many people around the world who are alive and living better lives because of her service. 

Almost three years ago, we took our last trip together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Kosovo’s fight for independence, when they dedicated a statue of her in downtown Pristina.  She had a richly deserved happy day.  

Our thoughts are with Alice, Anne, and Katie; her grandchildren; her brother John and sister Kathy; and everyone who loved her as we did.