A history of the U.S. Secretary of State


The U.S. Secretary of State is one of the highest-ranking positions in the U.S. Federal Government. Under the U.S. Constitution, the President appoints the Secretary of State with the “advice and consent” of the Senate. The Secretary is the President’s principal advisor for foreign policy, head of the U.S. State Department, senior Cabinet official and fourth in line of succession to the presidency.

U.S. foreign policy

Also under the U.S. Constitution, the President determines U.S. foreign policy. As the head of the State Department, which includes the Foreign Service, Civil Service and the Agency for International Development, the Secretary carries out the President’s foreign policies. As the head of the Foreign Service, the Secretary of State is responsible for management of the diplomatic service of the United States. The Foreign Service employs about 12,000 people, both domestically and internationally, and supports about 265 U.S. diplomatic missions around the world, including ambassadors to various nations.

Thomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State. John Kerry is the current, and 68th, Secretary of State.

The founding fathers

In 1811, John Adams, statesman, diplomat and second U.S President, wrote, “What are the Qualifications of a Secretary of State? He ought to be a Man of universal Reading in Laws, Governments, History. Our whole terrestrial Universe ought to be summarily comprehended in his Mind.”

The founding fathers apparently never considered that a woman could and would represent the U.S. in foreign affairs as the Secretary of State. To date, there have been just three.

The first woman Secretary of State – Madeleine Korbel Albright

On January 23, 1997, Madeleine Korbel Albright became the first woman Secretary of State, following nomination by President Clinton and unanimous confirmation of the Senate. Madeleine Korbel Albright was born Marie Jean “Madlenka” Korbel in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now, the Czech Republic) on May 15, 1937. Madeleine’s father, Josef Korbel, was a diplomat and served as a member of the Czechoslovak Foreign Service, as press attaché and an Ambassador. The Korbels fled Czechoslovakia as the Nazis seized control. Eventually, the family settled in Denver, Colorado, where Josef Korbel became a distinguished professor of international politics at the University of Denver. In 1964, Josef Korbel became the founding Dean of the Graduate School of International Studies. In 2008, the school was renamed the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

Thus, Madeleine Korbel Albright grew up learning about world affairs. She then went on to earn a B.A. in political science from Wellesley College and both a M.A. and Ph.D. from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

During the administration of President Jimmy Carter, national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former Columbia professor of Albright’s, hired her to work for the National Security Council.

In 1993, President Clinton appointed Albright Ambassador to the United Nations, where she served until she became Secretary of State.

In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Albright the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Apparently, after Josef Korbel’s passed in 1977, Madeleine asked her mother who had sent the flowers in the piano shaped dish. Madeline’s mother replied that it was from his favorite student, Condoleezza Rice. This was the first time that the future first woman Secretary of State had heard of the future second woman Secretary of State.

The second woman Secretary of State – Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice was born on November 14, 1954 in Birmingham, Alabama. Condoleezza was a gifted student and a piano prodigy. At the age of fifteen, she began college at the University of Denver, where her father was an assistant dean, with the intention of becoming a concert pianist. Along the way, Condoleezza Rice says she “walked into a class on International Politics” taught by Josef Korbel, which “forever changed” her life and that she “will be forever grateful to Dr. Korbel.”

Condoleezza Rice earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Denver, an M.A. in political science from the University of Notre Dame, and a PhD in political science from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Her dissertation centered on military policy and politics in what was then the communist state of Czechoslovakia.

In 2000, Rice was appointed National Security Advisor by President George W. Bush, becoming the first woman to hold the post. In 2005, she succeeded Colin Powell as Secretary of State.

Condaleezza Rice was succeeded by the former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, in 2009.

The third woman Secretary of State – Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton was born in Chicago, Illinois on October 26, 1947. She attended Wellesley College and Yale Law School, where she met her future husband, Bill Clinton.

In 2000, Hillary Clinton made history as the first First Lady elected to the United States Senate, and the first woman elected statewide in New York.

A year after Senator Clinton won reelection to the Senate, she began her first campaign for President. After losing the Democratic primary to Barack Obama, she campaigned for his election. In November 2008, President-elect Obama nominated her to be Secretary of State.

After nearly four decades in public service as an advocate, attorney, First Lady and Senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the 67th, and third woman, Secretary of State of the United States.

In April 2015, she began her second campaign for President. Six former Secretaries of State have been elected President.

The rise of women in high-ranking executive positions in the federal government of the United States has dramatically increased over the last twenty years. It took two hundred and twenty one years to have a woman appointed as Secretary of State. Now, out of the last five, three have been women. It’s just a matter of time until a woman is elected to the highest executive position in the United States. Imagine what the founding fathers would have thought of that.


Leave A Reply