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Madeleine Kunin

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Madeleine Kunin
Official portrait as Deputy Education Sec., 1993
United States Ambassador to Liechtenstein
In office
March 14, 1997 – August 16, 1999
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byM. Larry Lawrence
Succeeded byJ. Richard Fredericks
United States Ambassador to Switzerland
In office
August 19, 1996 – August 16, 1999
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byM. Larry Lawrence
Succeeded byRichard Fredericks
United States Deputy Secretary of Education
In office
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byDavid T. Kearns
Succeeded byMarshall S. Smith
77th Governor of Vermont
In office
January 10, 1985 – January 10, 1991
LieutenantPeter Plympton Smith
Howard Dean
Preceded byRichard Snelling
Succeeded byRichard A. Snelling
75th Lieutenant Governor of Vermont
In office
January 10, 1979 – January 10, 1983
GovernorRichard A. Snelling
Preceded byT. Garry Buckley
Succeeded byPeter Plympton Smith
Member of the Vermont House of Representatives
In office
January 5, 1973 – January 5, 1979
Personal details
Madeleine May

(1933-09-28) September 28, 1933 (age 90)
Zürich, Switzerland
Political partyDemocratic
Arthur Kunin
(m. 1959; div. 1995)
(m. 2006; died 2018)
EducationUniversity of Massachusetts Amherst (BA)
Columbia University (MA)
University of Vermont (MA)

Madeleine Kunin (née May; born September 28, 1933) is a Swiss-born American diplomat, author and politician. She served as the 77th governor of Vermont from 1985 until 1991, as a member of the Democratic Party. She also served as United States Ambassador to Switzerland from 1996 to 1999. She was Vermont's first and, to date, only female governor as well as the first Jewish governor of Vermont. She was also the first Jewish woman to be elected governor of a U.S. state. Kunin is currently[when?] a James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Kunin was born on September 28, 1933, in Zürich, Switzerland,[2] the daughter of Renee (Bloch) and Ferdinand May. Her family were German Jews escaped to Switzerland after the Nazi rise.[3] Kunin's father, Ferdinand May, suffered depression and died by suicide in a lake near Zurich.[3] She moved to the United States as a child.[4] She received her bachelor's degree in history from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1956), a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a master's degree in English from the University of Vermont. Prior to seeking elective office, she worked as a journalist for The Burlington Free Press, as a tour guide at the World's Fair, and as a part-time college professor. She was also involved in community activities, particularly in the area of women's rights, children, and literature. In 2012 her book, The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family, was published by Chelsea Green Publishing.[5]

Political career[edit]

In 1972, Kunin was defeated in her bid to join the Burlington Board of Aldermen. Later that year she was elected a Vermont State Representative, where in her first term she served as a member of the Government Operations Committee. Following her reelection in 1974, she was elected Minority Whip of the State House and appointed to the Appropriations Committee. After being elected to a third term in 1976, she was appointed Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, the first woman to assume this position. Kunin has written that when she served on the Appropriations Committee during his chairmanship, Emory A. Hebard, a conservative Republican who later served as Vermont State Treasurer, was a mentor, and gave her significant responsibilities despite her status as a member of the minority Democrats. When Hebard left the House, he successfully lobbied his former colleagues to name Kunin as chairwoman of the committee.[6]

In 1978 she was elected to the first of two terms as the 75th Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. Serving with Republican Richard Snelling, Kunin primarily served as President of the State Senate and worked with citizens around the state. She produced various studies in areas such as energy and day care and made policy recommendations to the Governor and Legislature. Kunin was a frequent speaker statewide during her time as lieutenant governor.

Kunin did not run for reelection as lieutenant governor in 1982, instead challenging Snelling for the governorship. She was unsuccessful, but in 1984 Snelling did not run for reelection, and Kunin was the successful Democratic nominee, defeating Republican John J. Easton Jr. to win the first of her three terms as governor.

In 1986 Kunin ran for her second term as governor. Her opponents were Republican Peter Plympton Smith and independent Bernie Sanders. Smith received 38 percent of the vote, Sanders 14 percent, and Kunin won with 47 percent of the vote.[7]

She is the first woman in U.S. history to have been elected governor of a U.S. state three times. As governor she focused on the environment, education, and children's issues. She appointed the first woman to the Vermont Supreme Court and created her state's family court system. She declined to seek reelection in 1990.

She was a member of the administration of President Bill Clinton, serving as deputy secretary of education of the United States from 1993 until 1997, when she became the ambassador to her native Switzerland, as well as to Liechtenstein. Prior to joining the Clinton Administration she worked in Clinton's campaign as a member of the search committee for the vice presidential nominee and on the transition team. Switzerland-United States relations entered a tense phase during the World Jewish Congress lawsuit against Swiss banks starting in 1995. The U.S. federal government adopted a delicate policy of supporting the heirs of the Holocaust victims, while formally opposing sanctions against Switzerland.[8] Ultimately, the Swiss had to re-evaluate the role of Switzerland during World War II. One of the steps taken was the publication of the names of the owners of dormant accounts in Swiss banks, with the surprise result that Renee May, Kunin's mother deceased in 1970 was among the names.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Kunin is the author of the books Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties (2018), The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family (2012), Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead (2008) and Living a Political Life (1995) which chronicles her career prior to joining the U.S. Department of Education. She is[when?] a resident of Burlington, Vermont.[9]

Kunin is the mother of four children.[10] She divorced her first husband, the academic Arthur Kunin, in 1995. She married John W. Hennessey Jr., a professor at Dartmouth College, in 2006.[10]

Kunin was the sister of the late Edgar May, who was a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a member of both the Vermont House of Representatives and Vermont State Senate.

Awards and honors[edit]

Governor Kunin has received more than twenty honorary degrees.[citation needed]

In 1995, Kunin received the Foreign Language Advocacy Award from the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in recognition of her support for education, equal access for all children and equitable salaries for teachers.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vermont, University of. "James Marsh Professors-at-Large Program : University of Vermont". Archived from the original on April 30, 2014. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  2. ^ Leavitt, Judith A. (February 13, 1985). American Women Managers and Administrators: A Selective Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Leaders in Business, Education, and Government. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-0-313-23748-5.
  3. ^ a b c Sanger, David E. (July 26, 1997). "New Twist on Swiss Accounts: Envoy Sees Her Mother's Name (Published 1997)". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  4. ^ "Madeleine May Kunin Facts". Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  5. ^ Clift, Elayne. "a book review by Elayne Clift: The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family". New York Journal of Books. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  6. ^ Kunin, Madeleine (2012). The New Feminist Agenda. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. pp. 176–177. ISBN 978-1-60358-425-8.
  7. ^ Kunin, Madeleine May (February 5, 2016). "When Bernie Sanders ran against me in Vermont". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 3, 2016.
  8. ^ Weinstein, Henry; Goldman, John J. (July 2, 1998). "Nazi-Era Claims Spark Sanctions on Swiss Banks". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 24, 2024.
  9. ^ Kunin, Madeleine. "Pearls, Politics, and Power - How Women Can Win and Lead - Introduction". Archived from the original on February 27, 2012. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Calta, Marialisa (February 26, 2006). "Madeleine Kunin and John Hennessey". The New York Times. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  11. ^ "The James W. Dodge Foreign Language Advocate Award". Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Archived from the original on August 21, 2014. Retrieved August 28, 2014.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of Vermont
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Vermont
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Vermont
1982, 1984, 1986, 1988
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador to Switzerland
Succeeded by
United States Ambassador to Liechtenstein
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former Governor Order of precedence of the United States Succeeded byas Former Governor