Biography of Condoleezza Rice, Former US Secretary of State

US President Bush's National Security Advisor Cond
US President Bush's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice speaks to reporters 01 November 2001 at the White House in Washington, DC. Rice discussed the administration's war on terrorism.

AFP / Getty Images

Condoleezza Rice (born November 14, 1954) is an American diplomat, political scientist, and educator, who served as United States National Security Adviser and later as Secretary of State in the administration of President George W. Bush. Rice was the first woman and first black woman to hold the post of national security adviser, and the first black woman to serve as Secretary of State. An award-winning professor at her alma mater Stanford University, she has also served on the boards of Chevron, Charles Schwab, Dropbox, and the Rand Corporation, among other corporations and universities.

Fast Facts: Condoleezza Rice

  • Known For: Former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Adviser
  • Born: November 14, 1954, in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
  • Parents: Angelena (Ray) Rice and John Wesley Rice, Jr.
  • Education: University of Denver, University of Notre Dame, Stanford University
  • Published Works: Germany Unified and Europe Transformed, The Gorbachev Era, and The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army
  • Awards and Honors: Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching
  • Notable Quote: “The essence of America—that which really unites us—is not ethnicity, or nationality or religion—it is an idea—and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things.” 

Early Life and Education

Condoleezza Rice was born on November 14, 1954, in Birmingham, Alabama. Her mother, Angelena (Ray) Rice was a high school teacher. Her father, John Wesley Rice, Jr., was a Presbyterian minister and dean at historically black Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her first name comes from the Italian phrase “con dolcezza” meaning “with sweetness.”

Professor Condoleezza Rice of Stanford University poses for a portrait in November 1985
Professor Condoleezza Rice of Stanford University poses for a portrait in November 1985. David Madison / Getty Images

Growing up in Alabama during a time when the South remained racially segregated, Rice lived on the campus of Stillman College until the family moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1967. In 1971, at age 16, she graduated from the all-girls St. Mary’s Academy in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado, and immediately entered the University of Denver. Rice majored in music until the end of her sophomore year, when she switched her major to political science after taking courses in international politics taught by Josef Korbel, father of future U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In 1974, the 19-year old Rice graduated cum laude from the University of Denver with a B.A. in political science, having also been inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. She then attended the University of Notre Dame, earning a master’s degree in political science in 1975.

After working as an intern at the U.S. Department of State, Rice traveled to Russia where she studied Russian at Moscow State University. In 1980, she entered the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Writing her dissertation on military policy in the then communist-ruled state of Czechoslovakia, she received a Ph.D. in political science in 1981 at age 26. Later the same year, Rice joined the faculty of Stanford University as a professor of political science. In 1984, she won the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching, and in 1993, the School of Humanities and Sciences Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching.

In 1993, Rice became the first woman and first black person to serve as provost—senior administrative officer—of Stanford University. During her six years as provost, she also served as the university’s chief budget and academic officer.

Government Career

In 1987, Rice took a break from her Stanford professorships to serve as an advisor on nuclear arms strategy to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 1989, she was appointed as a special assistant to President George H.W. Bush and director of Soviet and East European Affairs on the National Security Council during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the reunification of East and West Germany.

In 2001, President George W. Bush chose Rice as the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor. Following the resignation of Colin Powell in 2004, she was appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate as the 66th U.S. Secretary of State. As the first black woman to hold the post, Rice served as Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009.

George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his Foreign Policy Advisor, speak in a Washington, DC hotel room
George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his Foreign Policy Advisor, speak in a Washington, DC hotel room. Brooks Kraft / Getty Images

With the strong support of the Bush administration, Rice established a new State Department policy she called “Transformational Diplomacy,” with a goal of helping to expand and maintain America-friendly, democratic nations around the world, but particularly in the ever-volatile Middle East. Speaking at Georgetown University on January 18, 2006, Rice described Transformational Diplomacy as an effort “to work with our many partners around the world, to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system.”

To accomplish the goals of her Transformational Diplomacy, Rice oversaw the selective placement of the most-skilled U.S. diplomats to regions where existing or emerging democracies were the most-threatened by severe social and political problems such as poverty, disease, drug smuggling, and human trafficking. To better apply U.S. aid in these regions, Rice created the office of Director of Foreign Assistance within the State Department.

Rice’s achievements in the Middle East included the negotiations of Israel’s withdrawal from the disputed Gaza Strip and opening of border crossings in 2005, and the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon declared on August 14, 2006. In November 2007, she organized the Annapolis Conference, seeking a two-state solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian disagreement by creating a “Roadmap for peace” in the Middle East.

As Secretary of State, Rice also played a significant role in shaping U.S. nuclear diplomacy. In working to address human rights abuses in Iran, she worked for the passage of the United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions against the country unless it curtailed its uranium enrichment program—a key step in developing nuclear weapons.

When details regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons development and testing program became known, Rice opposed holding bilateral arms control talks with North Korea, while urging them to take part in the Six-Party Talks between China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, and the United States. Held for the purpose of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program, the talks were held periodically between 2003 and 2009, when North Korea decided to end its participation.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Quartet Principals from the European Union Press Conference
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, H.E. Ms. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State and H.E. Mr. Javier Solana, High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy. WireImage / Getty Images

One of Rice’s most impactful diplomatic efforts came in October 2008, with the signing of the U.S.-India Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy—the 123 Agreement. Named for Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, the pact allowed for the trade of non-military nuclear material and technology between the two countries in order to help India meet its growing energy requirements.

Rice traveled extensively in carrying out her diplomatic efforts. Logging 1.059 million miles during her tenure, she held the record for travel by a Secretary of State until 2016, when Secretary of State John Kerry bested her by about 1,000 miles, racking up 1.06 million miles traveling on behalf of the Barack Obama administration.

Rice’s term as Secretary of State ended on January 21, 2009, when she was succeeded by former First Lady and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On August 29, 2012, Rice expressed her feelings on having served as Secretary of State and set aside rumors that she might be considering running for high elected office. Speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, she stated, “I think my father thought I might be president of the United States. I think he would've been satisfied with secretary of state. I'm a foreign policy person and to have a chance to serve my country as the nation's chief diplomat at a time of peril and consequence, that was enough.”

Post-Government Life and Recognition

With the end of her term as Secretary of State, Rice returned to her teaching role at Stanford University and established herself in the private sector. Since 2009, she has served as a founding partner of the international strategic consulting firm RiceHadleyGates, LLC. She is also on the boards of online-storage technology company Dropbox and energy industry software firm C3. In addition, she serves on the boards of several major non-profit organizations including the George W. Bush Institute, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club
Former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looks on during the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club on April 07, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

In August 2012, Rice joined businesswoman Darla Moore as the first two women admitted as members of the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club, in Augusta, Georgia. Known as the “Home of the Masters,” the club had become infamous for its repeated refusal to admit women and blacks as members since it opened in 1933.

Known for her love of sports, Rice was chosen as one of the thirteen inaugural members of the College Football Playoff (CFP) selection committee in October 2013. When her selection was questioned by some college football experts, she revealed that she watched “14 or 15 games every week live on TV on Saturdays and recorded games on Sundays.”

In 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, Rice appeared on Time magazine’s “Time 100” list of the most influential people in the world. As one of only nine people to have been chosen for the list so frequently, Time praised Rice in its March 19, 2007 issue for “executing an unmistakable course correction in U.S. foreign policy.” In 2004, Forbes magazine ranked Rice as the most powerful woman in the world and in 2005 as the second most powerful woman after German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Personal Life

Though Rice was briefly engaged to professional football player Rick Upchurch during the 1970s, she has never married and has no children. 

Photograph of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice accompanying cellist Yo-Yo Ma
Condoleezza Rice accompanies world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, May 6, 2017. Paul Morigi / Getty Images

When she was just three-years-old, Rice started taking lessons in music, figure skating, ballet, and French. Until starting college, she hoped to become a concert pianist. At age 15, she won a student competition performing Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor with the Denver Symphony Orchestra. In April 2002 and again in May 2017, she accompanied the renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma in live performances of classic works by composers Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann. In December 2008, she played a private recital for Queen Elizabeth, and in July 2010, she accompanied “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin at Philadelphia's Mann Music Centre in an appearance to raise money for underprivileged children and awareness for the arts. She continues to play regularly with an amateur chamber music group in Washington, D.C.

Professionally, Rice’s teaching career continues in full swing. She is currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution; and a professor of Political Science at Stanford University.

Sources and Further Reference

  • “Condoleezza Rice.” Stanford Graduate School of Business, https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/faculty/condoleezza-rice.
  • Norwood, Arlisha R. “Condoleezza Rice.” National Women’s History Museum, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/condoleezza-rice.
  • Bumiller, Elisabeth. “Condoleezza Rice: An American Life.” Random House, December 11, 2007.
  • Plotz, David. “Condoleezza Rice: George W. Bush's celebrity adviser.” Slate.com, May 12, 2000, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2000/05/condoleezza-rice.html.
  • Rice, Condoleezza. “Transformational Diplomacy.” US Department of State, January 18, 2006, https://2001-2009.state.gov/secretary/rm/2006/59306.htm.
  • Tommasini, Anthony. “Condoleezza Rice on Piano.” The New York Times, April 9, 2006, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/09/arts/music/condoleezza-rice-on-piano.html.
  • Midgette, Anne. "Condoleezza Rice, Aretha Franklin: A Philadelphia show of a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” The Washington Post, July 29, 2010, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/28/AR2010072800122.html.
  • “Condoleezza Rice plays piano for the Queen.” The Daily Telegraph, December 1, 2008, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/theroyalfamily/3540634/Condoleezza-Rice-plays-piano-for-the-Queen.html.
  • Klapper, Bradley. “Kerry breaks record for miles traveled by secretary of state.” Aiken Standard, April 5, 2016, https://www.aikenstandard.com/news/kerry-breaks-record-for-miles-traveled-by-secretary-of-state/article_e3acd2b3-c6c4-5b41-8008-b8d27856e846.html.