Famous US Immigrants and Visionaries: Albright and Muir
American Immigrants who fought for equality and preservation.
The United States of America has attracted bright stars from all over the globe for 4 centuries. Families and individuals chose the US to try for a better life after hearing of the opportunities and quality of life available. This is in fact, an American tradition – that of immigrants deciding to become American by investing their dreams, talents and labor, and thus adding to the cultural and capital wealth of the nation, as naturalized citizens.
Today we look at two influential American immigrants, the first, Madeleine Albright, a pioneer in American politics as the first woman Secretary of State in January 1997; and the second, John Muir, a pioneer in the concept of environmentalism and the importance of preserving nature.
What these two pivotal Americans have in common is that they fought for and advocated for equality -of gender and of all beings.
Let’s read on to discover their stories and learn how their influence has impacted the American way of life and that of the world.
Diplomat, scholar, politician, and international businesswoman, Madeleine Albright is a pioneer in American and world affairs.
Born Marie Jana Korbelova May 15, 1937, in Prague Czechoslovakia to pro-democracy diplomat father Josef Korbel and mother Anna Korbel (Spieglova). The family, including 2 younger siblings, moved to Britain in 1939 to escape Nazi persecution due to Josef’s affiliations. In 1941, unbeknownst to young Madeleine, the family changed their religion from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, thus raising the children Catholic. In fact, it wasn’t until she was 59 years of age that she discovered that her parents were Jewish, and that 3 of her 4 grandparents were killed during the Second World War.
After spending the war in Britain, her family returned to Prague before Josef was appointed to Belgrade Yugoslavia as Czech Ambassador.
In 1948 when the Soviet supported Communist Party took over the Czech government, Korbel resigned and the family exiled to the US by way of Kashmir (Josef) and London ( the rest of the family).
The family settled in Denver where Josef had attained a position in the political science department, later becoming dean of the school of international relations.
These formative years living in turmoil in various countries undoubtedly influenced Madeleine. Her future career as states-person follows the footsteps of her father. In the mean time, Madeleine was active in international relations clubs in high school in Denver then while on scholarship majoring in political science at Wellesley College, where she graduated in 1959.
It was also in 1959 that she married Joseph Medill Patterson Albright, whom she had met one summer interning in Denver. Converting to the Episcopal Church, Madeleine and Joseph began a fruitful marriage and Joseph’s career in journalism began. Settling in New York, Madeleine gave birth to twin daughters in 1960 and another daughter in 1967. Throughout this period, she continued her studies in political science and Russian, on top of her fluency in French.
Her career began in 1976 as chief legislative assistant to Maine US Senator Ed Muskie.
In 1978 she held a position for 2 years as the National Security Council’s congressional liaison under Carter’s administration.
In 1980 she undertook an international research project in Poland. This was also the year her husband filed for divorce after leaving her for another woman.
In 1982 she began a tenure at Georgetown University specializing in Eastern European Studies, also directing the program on women in global politics.
Throughout the 80’s she was active in Democrat campaigns and subsequently was hired by incoming President Clinton in 1992 to manage the transition with the National Security Council.
It was in January 1993 that her first diplomatic post was secured as the US Ambassador to the United Nations.
After holding this position for 4 years, Albright became the first female US Secretary of State, as well as the highest ranking woman in US government history. Throughout her tenure she was noted for her strong support for NATO and American led multi-lateralism.
As the first woman to hold several prominent American diplomatic and political positions, Madeleine is a trail blazer for others, such as Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris.
As of 2016, Albright serves as chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a consulting firm, and chair of the advisory council for The Hague Institute for Global Justice, which was founded in 2011 in The Hague. She also serves as an Honorary Chair for the World Justice Project. The World Justice Project works to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the Rule of Law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.
Madeleine Albright is a co-investor with Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild, and George Soros in a $350 million investment vehicle called Helios Towers Africa, which intends to buy or build thousands of mobile phone towers in Africa.
This investment will aim to provide low cost internet for rural users with limited access to functional internet.
Environmentalist, preservationist , botanist and writer, the man known as John Muir is synonymous with getting back to nature. It is largely due to his work and legacy that protected natural areas and the US National Forests and Parks network exist.
Born April 21, 1838 in Dunbar Scotland, the third of eight children to Daniel Muir and Ann Gilrye, John was reared in a strict religious setting. His father decided to move to America to join a more strict faith when John was 11. John’s most vivid childhood memories were of wandering the Scottish countryside with his grandfather, and all in all, he was a rebellious free spirit who caught the frequent ire of his father.
The Muir family resettled in Portage Wisconsin in 1849 where Muir continued his adventuring before enrolling in botany and geology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
In 1863, John followed one of his brothers to Ontario Canada where he continued his botanical investigations before working at a sawmill.
Upon his return to the US in 1866 he assumed a supervisor position at a wagon wheel factory in Indianapolis where a tragic accident that left him almost blind changed his life forever. It was during his bed-ridden recovery that he decided to fully re-dedicate himself to his passion: the exploration and study of plants.
In September 1867 Muir hiked 1000 miles from Kentucky to Florida along the “wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way I could find”. This journey was recounted in his book A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.
Following this adventure Muir traveled to Havana, then New York City then onto San Francisco and Yosemite to which he was profoundly drawn. He built a cabin along the Yosemite Creek and lived there for 2 years, writing about his inspiring environment.
He became a legend of sorts in the Yosemite area and was visited by many famous people, including naturalist author Waldo Emerson, conservationist Gifford Pinchot and President Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1878, Muir served as a guide and artist for the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, on the “Survey of the 39th Parallel” across the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah.
In 1880 after many years alone and with intermittent employment, Muir married Louisa Strentzel and went into her business with her orchard-owning father.
However, throughout his time as agricultural business partner, John continued to visit the Yosemite area as well as other journeys to Alaska and British Columbia Canada.
In 1888 he returned to full time living in the Yosemite hills and began efforts to protect these and other pristine wilderness areas.
He co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892, and in 1903, following a visit by President Roosevelt, managed to obtain federally protected status for Yosemite Park and other areas.
This was also the year Muir became a naturalized citizen of the USA.
Muir died in Los Angeles on December 24, 1914 after a bout of pneumonia.
Legacy/ Giving Back
As a religious man, but also a man of nature, John Muir believed God could best be seen in untouched nature. This belief pervaded his philosophy and writings.
John Muir helped show us the value of nature for nature’s sake as well as helped us to harness the mysteries of plants and animals and apply them into modern medicine and science. Without nature as a guide, we would not only imperil and or lose the delicate balance of our ecosystem and world, but we would be stuck decades in the past by missing out on the benefits of mimicking nature.
Preserving nature as it is helps us to regain balance and perspective and allows us to re-evaluate our position in the grand scheme of things. From an investment perspective, we can learn from John’s legacy by anticipating long term trends that follow natural cycles.
California celebrates John Muir Day on April 21 each year. Muir was the first person honored with a California commemorative day when legislation signed in 1988 created John Muir Day, effective from 1989 onward. Muir is one of three people so honored in California, along with Harvey Milk Day and Ronald Reagan Day.
Choosing to become American is a massive decision and requires a lot of courage and dedication. As many of us can attest, the rewards of becoming a naturalized citizen have been manifold. Freedom to express ourselves and make the kind of financial lifestyle we desire are just two of the reasons people choose America.
What we learned from the immigration stories of Madeleine and John today is that the impact of a personal vision can extend far beyond the individual and even into legacy.
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