Madeleine Albright, first female secretary of state, on her upbringing, courage and more

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Madeleine Albright, the first-ever female secretary of state, died Wednesday, her family confirmed. She was 84.

A native of Prague, Czechoslovakia, Albright also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during former President Bill Clinton’s administration and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. She also served as a professor at Georgetown University and founded the Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley College.

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent,” she told HuffPost Living in 2010.

Here’s a look back at some of Albright’s most notable quotes on America’s international affairs, what courage meant to her and more.

On her upbringing

''I think my father and mother were the bravest people alive,'' Albright told The New York Times in 1997. ''They dealt with the most difficult decision anyone could make. I am incredibly grateful to them, and beyond measure.''

Albright, born in Prague in 1937, fled to England with her family in 1939. She was raised Roman Catholic, but her family was of Jewish heritage, and she learned in the 1990s that three of her grandparents died in the Holocaust.

Albright’s family returned to Prague after World War II, but they moved to the United States in 1948 following the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia.

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Ambassador and secretary of state

As secretary of state, Albright backed military intervention in the Kosovo conflict. She would also push for military action in Iraq and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"I believe in the goodness of American power," she told PBS during her tenure as secretary of state. "I believe that we have responsibilities. And that doesn't mean that the United States has to be everywhere, all the time, with everything, but that there are certain parts of the world, and certain situations, including humanitarian disasters, where the presence of the United States, in some form, makes a huge difference."

Albright in 1996 was criticized for saying during an interview that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq as a result of U.S. sanctions was "worth it."

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In one of her most famous quips, Albright condemned the Cuban military's 1996 shootdown of civilian aircraft. One of the pilots boasted about firing a missile into the civilian plane’s “cojones.”

Following the incident, Albright told the U.N. Security Council “Frankly, this is not cojones. This is cowardice.”


USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll asked Albright in 2020 how she defines courage. She called courage “when you stand up for what you believe in when it's not always easy and you get criticized for it.”

She also vowed to use her voice “to the best of my ability in terms of making sure that democracy is our form of government and that those around the world that want to live in a democracy have a possibility to do so.”

'A special place in hell'

Albright, who blazed a trail in a male-dominated field of foreign policymaking, on multiple occasions said she believed, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." She first said the line as the U.S. ambassador to the UN in the 1990s, and she later repeated it while stumping for then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.

She would go on to apologize for the quip she made as Clinton faced off against Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2016 Democratic primary.

"I absolutely believe what I said, that women should help one another, but this was the wrong context and the wrong time to use that line. I did not mean to argue that women should support a particular candidate based solely on gender,” Albright wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Madeleine Albright: Famous quotes from first female secretary of state