In Memoriam: Dr. Catherine McArdle Kelleher

With profound sadness, WIIS announces the passing of WIIS’s founder, Dr. Catherine McArdle Kelleher (January 19, 1939 – February 15, 2023). While Catherine was a renowned scholar, writer, professor, mentor, analyst, and practitioner in national and international security studies, she was most notably a pioneer and champion for women in the national and international security field.

In 1988, Catherine founded and served as the first president of Women In International Security (WIIS). In an interview, when asked why she began WIIS, Catherine responded, “I started WIIS largely out of irritation. It was clear that there were many qualified women my age in many fields who weren’t getting invited to conferences and weren’t getting job offers. They were simply not thought of. From your desk, you could look around the office, and you wouldn’t see more than one woman.”

Catherine served on the National Security Council under President Carter at a time when women held only 14% of the top positions. She was named Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia and Secretary of Defense’s representative to NATO in the Clinton administration.

The meager number of women holding top positions in government prompted Catherine to turn to the Ford Foundation for funding to establish WIIS. Back then, there was no “playbook” for women entering the field of international security and no path and few opportunities for women to break into top leadership positions.

As a professor at the University of Maryland, Catherine saw ever more young women interested in a career in international security. Still, she knew from experience that the obstacles were many. With the influx of women, it was important to Catherine that they knew how to enter the field and succeed there.

Catherine’s legacy is the generations of young and talented women now working in national and international security. Catherine had to forge a path forward in a field where few women could make a career.

Catherine started her career finding doors that would open to new and diverse generations of women–and then spent a career ensuring that the doors would remain open.

Today, WIIS has grown its membership in over 50 countries and six continents. Without Catherine’s eye for positive change and outstanding leadership, WIIS would not be the leading organization in advancing gender equality and women’s leadership in international peace and security.

Catherine at the launch of the Kelleher Fellowship at the University of Maryland

Catherine received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1967, one of only three women at the time to have been granted a Ph.D. with a specialization in security and defense studies at MIT. Catherine wrote on a wide range of security and defense issues but wrote principally about European security, with an interest in Russia. She was the author of over 70 books, monographs, and articles. Her book on The Politics of German Nuclear Weapons is still considered a classic. She taught at a number of universities, including the University of Maryland, Brown University, Columbia University, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and the Naval War College.

During her tenure at the University of Maryland at College Park, she was the founding Director of the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland (CISSM) as well as the founder of WIIS. From 1998-2001, Catherine served as Director of the Aspen Institute Berlin.

The accolades are many. Decorated for her public service by both the American and German governments, Dr. Kelleher received the Medal for Distinguished Public Service of the Department of Defense, the Director’s Medal from the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Cross of Honor in Gold from the Federal Armed Forces of Germany.

Catherine is survived by her children, Michael Kelleher (Dayna Kalleres) and Diane Kelleher (David Attis), and four grandchildren.

WIIS will hold a memorial service for Catherine in the Spring.

To honor Catherine’s memory, WIIS will be collecting and sharing testimonials.