Madeleine May Kunin, Governor

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Madeleine Kunin (May)

Immediate Family:

Daughter of Ferdinand May and Renée May
Widow of John W. Hennessey Jr.
Ex-wife of Private User
Mother of Private; Private User; Private and Private
Sister of Edgar May

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Madeleine May Kunin, Governor

Madeleine May Kunin (born September 28, 1933) is an American diplomat and politician. She was 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 the James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont.


Kunin was born in Zürich to a Jewish family, and moved to the United States as a child. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a master's degree 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.

Political career

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.

In 1978 she was elected to the first of two terms as the 73rd 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 left the lieutenant governorship in 1982 to unsuccessfully challenge Snelling for the governorship, but in 1984 she was elected to the first of three terms as governor. She is the first woman in U.S. history to be elected governor three times. As governor she focused on the environment, education, and children's issues. She appointed the first woman to the State Supreme Court and created the 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.

Personal life

Kunin is the author of the books "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 a resident of Burlington, Vermont.

Kunin is the mother of four children: Julia, Peter, Adam, and Daniel (Senior Advisor to the Government of the Republic of Georgia). She divorced her husband Arthur Kunin in 1995. She married John W. Hennessey Jr, a professor at Dartmouth College, in 2006.

Governor Kunin was the sister of 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

Kunin is a recipient of the International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.

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Madeleine May Kunin, Governor's Timeline

September 28, 1933