Madeleine Albright’s Life In Pins

The late politician wielded glorious, intricate brooches, which she packed with meaning.

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NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 06:  Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attends the Annual Freedom...
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On March 23, 2022, Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. secretary of state, passed away from cancer at the age of 84.

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As the highest-ranking woman in American government for much of her career, Albright was also huge fan of brooches, putting her in good company with Queen Elizabeth II and the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

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In 2010, the Smithsonian museum featured an exhibit displaying 200 of Albright’s brooches, called Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection.

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For the exhibit’s opening, Albright told the museum’s magazine that “most of the pins are costume and are supposed to be reflective of whatever issue we’re dealing with or what I’m feeling like on a given day or where I’m going,” she said. “But mostly it’s fun.”

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“On good days, I wore flowers and butterflies and balloons, and on bad days, all kinds of bugs and carnivorous animals,” she told Smithsonian. The pin pictured here is an 18K gold and amethyst Firework pin from Paloma Picasso for Tiffany & Co.

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“I saw [pins] as an additional way of expressing what I was saying, a visual way to deliver a message,” Albright explained.

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The first time Albright used this medium was in 1997, after the Iraqi government-controlled media called her an “unparalleled serpent.” Her response? “I happened to have a snake pin, and wore it to my next meeting on Iraq,” she told Smithsonian. The pin, pictured here, is 18K gold with a diamond, circa 1860.

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In 1999, when the Russian government planted a listening device (a “bug”) by her office, she replied with a huge bug brooch the next time she saw them. The pin, pictured here, is crafted of gold-plated metal, chalcedony, amethyst, crystals, and glass, designed by Iradj Moini, circa 1997.

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When Albright joined President Bill Clinton on a 1999 trip to Russia, she wore a trio of monkeys — hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil — nodding to the fact that the Russian government was withholding information about Chechnya.

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President Vladimir Putin reportedly asked what they meant, and she responded honestly. “He was not amused. I probably went too far,” she recalled. The three pins are crafted from Tagua nuts, gold-plated metal, simulated pearls, glass cabochons, and crystals, designed by Iradj Moini, circa 2000.

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While negotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2000, Albright recalled, “The Russian foreign minister asked, ‘Is that one of your missile interceptors?’” She said, “Yes. We make them very small.” The pin, pictured here, is anodized aluminum, designed by Lisa Vershbow, circa 1998.

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According to Albright, in one interview, she was pressed on a complicated issue and responded, “Sometimes talks, like mushrooms, do better in the dark for a while.” And the shroom pin was born. Pictured here, it’s 18K gold-plated silver and a single diamond, designed by Mary Ehlers, circa 2000.

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Albright wore a dove pin on multiple occasions in which she aimed to be a beacon of peace, as the dove is a symbol of peace in the Holy Land. The brooch, pictured here, was a gift from Leah Rabin and made of gold-plated metal, designed by Cécile et Jeanne, circa 1997.

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When President Barack Obama presented Albright with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, she chose an aptly patriotic pin to mark the occasion. Pictured here, the pin is gold- and rhodium-plated metal with rhinestones, designed by Ann Hand, circa 1996.

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Albright’s favorite brooch was a clay heart made by her daughter at age five. When it was held in the Smithsonian, her granddaughter made her another as a replacement. The original, pictured here, was crafted by her daughter Katie in 1972.

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