Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box
My nephew, Rob Havener, teases me that I am instantly captivated by shoes and shiny objects, and he is right. I love jewelry–shoes too, but that is another book review–and brooches are my favorite. They are at once distinctly adult and wonderfully feminine.

The Museum of Arts and Design in New York found Albright’s jewelry and the role it played in her diplomat career worthy of an exhibition, and the book was written as a companion volume. Read My Pins is a delightful romp through the history of jewelry, the third wave of feminism, American foreign policy and Albright’s own personal journey.

The story of her initial recognition of the diplomatic power of her pins is now familiar. Like most women of her generation, Albright has long worn brooches, and she probably chose them with not much more in mind than if she liked them and they matched her clothing. But while serving as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, she criticized the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who responded by calling her “an unparalleled serpent.” As she was dressing for a meeting with Iraqi officials, she pondered what brooch to wear, and decided it should be her snake pin. A star was born!

While in college, Albright owned very little jewelry other than the sorority and circle pins which many college woman coveted and cherished. That changed after her marriage; her former husband is a member of the prominent Guggenheim family, and Albright began to receive the occasional piece of “good” jewelry. When they moved to Washington, D. C., during the early 1960's, the jewelry owned by the glamourous First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy often made headlines. Still, Albright and her friends typically owned little more than their engagements rings and the de rigueur single strand of pearls. After her divorce and the completion of her studies, she took a job with then United States democratic senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. She later became a Georgetown University professor, and it is at that point when she appears to have begun shopping in earnest.

Albright said she gravitated to brooches in part because they tend to be less expensive than rings, bracelets and necklaces. She also singled out two of her most precious possessions: a garnet suite which includes a detachable piece that can be worn as a pendant or a pin that she received from her late parents as wedding gift. The garnet is the Czechoslovak national stone, and Albright was born in the capitol city, Prague. She also deeply treasures the heart-shaped pin made from clay by her daughter, Katie.

The provenances of the rest of her collection are wide ranging. Some readers may be very surprised to learn that most of the pins are not expensive baubles from exclusive jewelry stores– although she freely admitted to whiling away hours and dropping big bucks in the Tiny Jewel Box, an exclusive boutique on Connecticut Avenue in the nation’s capitol–but costume jewelry, some of which cost no more than several dollars. She does, however, own some absolutely exquisite pieces, including my favorite, a gold sheaf of wheat wrapped in diamonds from Tiffany’s and a diamond panther of the kind popularized by the late Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, from Cartier.

Many of the brooches in the collection send social and political messages. Breaking the Glass Ceiling is rendered in shattered glass; the Berlin Wall pin actually contains pieces of that decades-long symbol of oppression. Albright’s collection also includes political pins from presidential campaigns; whimsical pieces that serve a practical purpose, such as the pin made in the shape of Lady Liberty with eyes made of clocks, one up and one down so she and her visitors could keep track of time; and the so-called Americana collection made up of jewelry in the shape of flags, military pins, eagles and the like.

During her tenure as Secretary of State, Albright earnestly began to carefully consider the message she wanted her jewelry to send, the obstacles she needed to overcome, and the causes she wanted to wanted to support or reject. Her collection of turtle pins expressed displeasure at the maddeningly slow pace of diplomacy; a peace dove was worn when she paid her respects to Rwandan genocide victims. Albright wore zebra pins when she visited Nelson Mandela; for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, she wore the Interceptor Missile brooch. When Cuban president Fidel Castro ordered fighter pilots to shoot down what he knew were unarmed civilian airplanes, he bragged about his cojones. Albright’s response? She turned the beak of her bluebird brooch downward in mourning and sharply retorted “This is not cojones, it is cowardice.”

What at first was merely a witty rejoinder to Saddam Hussein became a semi-official and useful tool in the careful and deliberate world of diplomacy. But Albright’s predilection for brooches is also a wonderful conversation starter which has broken the ice and relaxed tensions between the United States and other countries. I like to think, however, that the former Secretary of State bought most of her pins for the same reasons as do I: their beauty and femininity.

Read My Pins is a jewel of a book. And if my fella is reading this, I would love to have the “gold” snowflake brooch from J Crew for a Christmas present.

Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box
Madeline Albright
Melcher Media
175 pages
Introductory Essay
Annotated Bibliography and Index


Dr. Marilyn K. Howard earned a BA in criminal Justice from Ohio Dominican College; an MA in political science from The Ohio State University (Thesis: The Entrance of Black Voters Into the Mississippi Electorate) and her PhD in American history from The Ohio State University (Dissertation: Black Lynching in the Promised Land: Mob Violence in Ohio 1876 - 1916). She was an associate professor in the Department of Humanities at Columbus State Community College, where she now holds the same position in the Department of Humanities. Dr. Howard has twice received the Distinguished Teaching Award from Columbus State, and was twice recognized as an outstanding staff member by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. She was also named a top educator by Ohio magazine. Dr. Howard has served as an editor of the Southern Historian, a freelance book critic for the Columbus Dispatch and Ohioana Library. She has published essays in a number of anthologies, including the Encyclopedia of Racial Violence in America and the Encyclopedia of Jim Crow. She continues to conduct research on the lynching of black men by white mobs in Ohio.