Madeleine Albright Explains Her Pin Collection—and Support Groups

By Amy-Willard Cross

Saddam Hussein drove former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to collect costume jewelry. Right after he called her an "unparalled serpent," Albright bought a snake pin—then stocked up on more.

Some 200 pieces from her famed pin collection are now on display at Wellesley College, her alma mater as well as that of other Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Young graduates might start thinking a Wellesley degree is a ticket to the top diplomatic post.)

"For good days, I bought flowers, for bad days there were horrible insects or canines," Albright said in a videotaped interview with college president Kim Bottomly.

Albright developed her own language beyond that: doves meant peace and RPGs did not. Once, she told of wearing a crocodile when meeting Vladimir Putin and now jokes it should have been bigger.

The purpose of touring the pins is "not to show how acquisitive I am, that goes without saying…but  to use the pin and text that goes with it to make foreign policy less boring," Albright explains. Because behind every brooch is a story.

The costume of diplomacy might be suits, but she added her own kind of emoji.

What’s one of her favorites? A handmade piece by her kindergarten-age daughter. 

To this day, the PhD in Soviet studies still matches her jewelry to the occasion. While speaking about women’s advancement recently, her glass pin shattered when she was getting out of the car. That night she addressed the crowd, saying "we shattered some of it, but the shattering keeps going on…we need to keep looking at how to shatter other ceilings together."

Sticking together is something Albright has long advocated and done.

Newly arrived as the US Ambassador to the UN, she asked her assistant to invite the other women delegates to lunch—telling how it was the first time she wasn’t cooking herself. Of the 183 delegates, only six were women.

From that half dozen, she created a caucus, "We called ourselves the G7. We’d always take one another’s calls." It made some men angry and they would ask her why she would take a call from Lichtenstein, to which the US representative to the United Nations would say, "You can have yourself replaced by a woman and I’d be happy to take your phone call."

Later, as Secretary of State, she created a group of female ministers, explaining, "I do think having a support group is important." Especially if your supporters are all directing their country’s foreign policy. Albright helped make that seem more normal.

Albright certainly shattered her fair share of ceilings. She tells a story of her young granddaughter asking why everybody made such a big deal about her grandmother being a secretary of state—since all of them have been women in her lifetime.

Foxy Lady, c. 1970. Leah Stein, France. Photo by John Bigelow Taylor. 

Albright said she wears this pin when she's "having a lot of fun and doing a little flirting
along the way."