Madeleine Albright, First Female U.S. Secretary of State, Dies

Madeleine Albright, the first female United States secretary of state, died Wednesday at age 84.

Albright died of cancer "surrounded by her family and friends," according to a statement from her family posted on Twitter.

Albright was a prominent political figure for decades, working in the White House under President Bill Clinton. She made history by being the first woman to serve as secretary of state from 1997 to 2001. Her political career continued into her later years, as she was sworn in as the chair of the Defense Policy Board in November of last year, CNN reported.

Born Marie Jana Korbelova in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Albright was a refugee twice—the first in 1939 when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, then again in 1948, when the Soviet-sponsored Communist coup caused her family to permanently settle in the U.S., according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Albright became a U.S. citizen in 1957 and got her political science degree two years later. She began her political career in the 1970s after getting a Ph.D. in Public Law and Government. During her time as secretary of state, she notably promoted NATO's eastward expansion to nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

She also advocated for the bombings in Yugoslavia to stop the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by Yugoslavian and Serbian forces, Britannica added. The advocacy resulted in Kosovo officials naming a square for her.

Once she left the secretary of state position, she founded a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and wrote multiple books. At the time of her death, she was a professor at Georgetown University and in leadership roles for a number of organizations such as the Albright Stonebridge Group, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, the National Democratic Institute and more, according to her family's statement.

Though she openly criticized former President Donald Trump and was removed from the Defense Policy Board by him in 2020, she returned as chair of the board one year later.

In response to her death, some U.S. government officials expressed their condolences. In a statement, President Joe Biden said she spent her days "defending freedom around the world and lifting up those who suffered under repression."

"Hers were the hands that turned the tide of history," he said, adding that "Madeleine was always a force for goodness, grace, and decency—and for freedom."

Representative Val Demings wrote on Twitter that Albright "was not only a trailblazer and breaker of glass ceilings, she was a brilliant, passionate, dedicated public servant, who cared deeply for our values and our safety."

Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department, said at a press conference that many senior officials, such as current Secretary of State Antony Blinken "were lucky enough to call her...a mentor," calling her a trailblazer who "quite literally opened doors."

"The impact that Secretary Albright... had on this building is felt every single day in just about every single corridor," he said.

Update 3/23/22, 3:52 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.

Madeline Albright Dies at 84
Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright died Wednesday at the age of 84. Above, Albright arrives to address the participants at Estoril Conferences 2017 for the final conference on Challenges to Open Democracies on May 31, 2017, in Estoril, Portugal. Photo by Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images