Skip to main content

Dr. Catherine McArdle Kelleher, the founder of Women In International Security (WIIS), was a renowned scholar, writer, professor, mentor, analyst, and practitioner in national and international security studies, but she was most notably a pioneer and champion for women in the international peace and security field.

Catherine was a builder–of ideas, talent, and institutions, but the generation of talented women working in the gender, peace and security fields are her greatest legacy.

Catherine started WIIS in 1987 “largely out of irritation,” because she knew many qualified women who weren’t getting invited to conferences or getting job offers. And as a University of Maryland professor meeting young women interested in a career in international security, Catherine

knew from experience that the obstacles in this career path were many. Having an institution to ensure women knew how to enter the field and succeed would be important, and WIIS filled this need.

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. Without Catherine’s eye for positive change and outstanding talent, WIIS would not be the leading organization in advancing gender equality and women’s leadership in international peace and security. Today, WIIS has grown its membership in over 50 countries and six continents. As a bridge between the academic and policy communities, WIIS’ research, publications, events, and mentoring and professional development programs exemplify the goals and aspirations of its founder.

Catherine was also the founding Director of the Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM) at the University of Maryland-College Park, where she aimed to create a place where government officials could seek out independent advice on the security topics of the day. In her public service career, 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.

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. She taught at universities around the world and was the author of over 70 books, monographs, and articles. Her book on The Politics of German Nuclear Weapons is still considered a classic. 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.


“Carnegie Corporation of NY recognizes the contributions of Catherine Kelleher upon the news of her passing. Her work on nongovernmental nuclear policy was innovative; her efforts to advance women in international security was pathbreaking. Kelleher was a scholar, mentor, and fierce advocate who forever changed the peace and security field. We are proud to be a continuing supporter of her legacy.”
Patricia Nicholas Carnegie Corporation of New York
“Catherine was an extraordinary trailblazer at a time when there were so few women in the national security field. In those early years she somehow understood how important it would be to bring us together, to support and learn from one another. Her courageous vision created a legacy that now extends across generations of women. She was a role model whose contributions to elevating women in the field are unsurpassed and to whom so many of us owe much gratitude.”
Anne Witkowsky U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, U.S. Department of State
“Catherine was a bold and fearless beacon for thousands of women – and many men as well – with whom she shared her intellect, her humor, her high expectations, and her exemplary accomplishments. WIIS opened doors to friendships, mentors, confidence, and skills that continue to buoy and connect me. What a debt we owe Catherine, and what an opportunity we have to carry her legacy forward.”
Ambassador Laura Holgate Ambassador to the United Nations International Organizations in Vienna and United States Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency
“Catherine was a leader and an inspiration. She was a trailblazer who made enduring contributions both as an expert in national security and as the leader of a supportive professional community, WIIS. WIIS provided opportunities, examples, and friendships that helped me develop as a professional, a colleague, and a person. Looking back, when talking to her at WIIS events, I appreciated that she always asked perceptive questions which meant one had to organize one’s thoughts to reply. Her advice and example continue to inspire.”
Dr. Esther D. Brimmer Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs
“Catherine Kelleher was a wonderful mentor, a compelling speaker and storyteller, a gifted academic and writer, a kind human being, and an extraordinary institution builder. I first met her when I was a young graduate student in Boston, and had the great privilege of experiencing her wisdom and her kindness in the succeeding decades. Catherine used her creativity and intellect to help create welcoming spaces for others. We honor her memory by following her example.”
Natalie Goldring Visiting Professor of the Practice, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
“Catherine is an inspiration to me. Never, in spite of her being my “boss” as a board member on institutions I have led, did she consider herself above it all. Completely the contrary. Always attuned to the needs of the persons she represented. Always ready with good advice based on great experience. And courageous, unwavering, in her beliefs and passions.Though I cannot claim to have known her as well as so many on this list, I can say this: she always helps me aspire to be a better person.” Condolences to all, to her family and to her friends around the world.”
Bates Gill Executive Director, Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis
“I met Catherine when I joined the board of WIIS. Her commitment to women in international security was so clear from the minute we first met. She was a fighter for the inclusion of women in all aspects of the security sector. On a personal level, I remember her ongoing friendship and willingness to listen, to advise, and support my work, no matter how busy she was or where she was living. Her upbeat attitude, no matter how difficult a challenge, was also an inspiration to me about the power of optimism and intelligence. We have lost a leader in the field, but most important, we have all lost a great friend and mentor.”
Johanna Mendelson Forman Adjunct Professor, School of International Service at American University
“Catherine was a true trailblazer, role model, and mentor for generations of women in international security. Thanks to her and WIIS, thousands of women have found their place in a field that had few women when she started Among her many contributions, that may be her most important legacy. She will be greatly missed!”
Michele Flournoy Former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
“Catherine owned the room. Her generosity of spirit and sharp intellect unfailingly inspired those around her. Honor her also for her perseverance. It often served her well in challenging professional environments. And thank her for providing paths others could travel. So many of us were pulled along, perhaps just a step or two, by the force that was Catherine.”
Sheila Buckley Independent Arms Control Consultant
“Such a mighty oak has left us – a true trailblazer, brilliant, with a deep heart. May Catherine’s memory be a blessing.”
Melanie Greenberg Managing Director, Peacebuilding, Humanity United
I had the pleasure of working with Catherine the summer of 1999 when she ran the Aspen Institute in Berlin. Even though I was just a young intern at the time, she always went out of her way to be as inclusive as possible. When we had team meetings she would listen to my ideas and opinions with the same intensity as senior staff. She was always so kind and thoughtful, even inviting me along to a theatrical production as a way to get to know me better. It was a formative time in my life and helped me build similar leadership and collaborative skills, which I continue to try to emulate today. She will be missed and in my thoughts.
Matt Keller Senior Advisor, Embassy of Liechtenstein
“Catherine was a bigger than life figure, whom I had the pleasure to know for many years. Regrettably, I just missed her at the University of Michigan, having departed the year she began her teaching there. While there are many stories about her I could recount, perhaps my most vivid memory is of Catherine standing at the front of a bus leading a group of IISS members across the border into East Berlin. Her familiarity with the city struck me as remarkable, but it only was afterward that I learned that it was acquired during her time as a graduate student in the FRG and her role in assisting many East Germans across the border to safety at very considerable risk to herself.”
William Potter Director, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
“I first met Catherine in the early 1980s when we were both invited to a conference in Wildbad Kreuth in Bavaria. We were the only women at the conference and were only allowed to use the swimming pool when the men weren’t swimming. The men all called each other Dr. Professor, but we were Cathy and Angie. Catherine set them straight! Catherine started a Russian version of WIIS and we had several memorable conferences with the Russian women, and also with Ukrainians, Estonians and others. At a conference in Tallinn, there was quite a bit of tension between the Russian and Estonian women. But, alas, they got much friendlier toward each other when they started complaining about the Chechens. What a loss, she was a pioneer and trailblazer–and a good friend.”
Angela Stent Director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and Professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University
“Catherine Kelleher recruited me to join the second class ever of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland when I was just in my early twenties; a relatively freshly minted undergraduate clueless about what to do next. For forty years, Catherine has been my guide star in too many ways to count, and it is thanks to her that I met and have benefited from the friendship and collegiality of many of you. She been an inspiration to hundreds – perhaps thousands- to make the world both a more peaceful and more secure place but also more equitable. She also showed that one can do so and still be a human with a big heart and soul. Catherine taught me the importance of mentorship, of not only opening doors but keeping them open. Catherine’s inimitable “can do” spirit has infected many of us and will live on far beyond her and our earthly existence.”
Carola Weil Dean of Continuing Studies, McGill University
“I met Professor Catherine Kelleher in the fall of 1975 when I started graduate school at the University of Michigan. Thus commenced a relationship of almost fifty years that began with me as research assistant and progressed to a warm relationship of mentoring, friendship, and collaboration. Catherine had that unique ability to profess intense interest in my ideas or stories that were probably rather mundane. No matter –Catherine treated them as the most important thing on her agenda. Not content to mentor me, over the years she sought my recommendation of my own students who might benefit from studying with her (especially after she moved to Maryland). I passed on several names, and all attended Maryland and went on to careers of distinction in Washington and beyond. All of them speak in warm tones of appreciation for Catherine, so I suspect that they will themselves pay forward the mentoring that they received. I think it fair to say that her influence will carry through many generations. Catherine was the true personification of the expression “a life well lived.””
Richard Eichenberg Associate Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Tufts University
“I did not know Catherine well, but I knew her extraordinary impact on the field of U.S. national security for women. I was Executive Director of WIIS at a time when many in Washington DC were saying there was no longer a real problem of gender equality in national security. There were frequent comments that women were entering the pipeline in high numbers, and that the field would surely balance out with time. Often, doors were opened for WIIS to continue and deepen the work because people remembered the efforts of Catherine Kelleher and respected her dedication to the cause. Her commitment and her relationships inspired others to become champions. We will honor her legacy by continuing to strive for gender equality in peace and security, as we recognize that there is still much work to be done.”
Jolynn Shoemaker Director, Global Engagements Global Affairs, UC Davis; Fellow, Our Secure Future: Women Make the Difference
“But I just want to say briefly that I was near Catherine’s generation, and we were friends and I was delighted with her founding of WIIS. Something long needed and she had the courage and time and fortitude to press on with it and make a real difference to the later generation(s) of women in the international relations/defense related fields. I will miss her.”
Amie Hoeber President, AMH Consulting
“Catherine was a force to be reckoned with — an intellect, a will, a person who believed that people could make the world better. She was always generous with her time but also always sizing up the people she met to see if they were worthy. She inspired a generation of national security professionals, including me, to do the right things, not just be successful.”
Kurt Volker President, Alliance Strategic Advisors, LLC
“I first met Catherine on a consulting project for Pacific Sierra Research in 1978 or 1979, run by Dick Clarke, in tac nukes in Europe. We hit it off immediately, for the next seven years she was a constant source of wisdom, guidance, and inspiration for me, ending only when I decided to go into the business world. I last saw her at the memorial for our mutual dissertation chairman, Bill Kaufmann – we had dinner together with a few other friends, and it was wonderful to catch up with her. She was really a giant in the field, warm and wonderful and wise, and I will miss her greatly.”
David Schwartz Independent Writer
“Catherine Kelleher has been—and will continue to be—a historically important figure in national and international security affairs. She received her Ph.D. in political science from MIT in 1967. This was a time when national and international security studies was just beginning to get a foothold in the civilian academic world, and almost all of the foot soldiers were men! Catherine went on to have an extraordinary career as a scholar, analyst, teacher, and policy practitioner. She was also a pioneer and champion for women in national and international security. Catherine’s most important and lasting contributions, from my perspective, were her decades of institution-building efforts. In the late 1980s, Catherine was the founder and first president of WIIS, which has given a boost to many thousands of women and changed both the demographics and the directions of security studies communities worldwide. And, for those of us who followed in her footsteps over the decades, Catherine was a brilliant, supportive, and gracious senior colleague—a role model in every respect.”
Michael Brown Professor and Former Dean, The Elliot School of International Affairs, The George Washington University
“I am deeply saddened to hear that Dr. Catherine Ardle Kelleher is no longer with us physically speaking. Her memories will always be with us. Dr. Catherine Kelleher was more than a supporter and champion of women in the field of international security. She was a true source of inspiration for many other women around the globe. Women In International Security, the organization she created in 1988, is the manifestation of her spirit and intellectual prowess. Her spirit speaks about valor, commitment, and generosity. She had the valor to act in a professional environment dominated by men for the benefit of other women working in the field of national and international security. She was committed to a set of values that can be identified in the very foundation of WIIS. And last but not least, she was generous to share those values with the rest of the world. Like many others, who had the privilege to know her or her professional activity, I will cherish her memory and I am honored to continue to promote the outstanding values of WIIS.
Dr. Simona Hobincu President, WIIS Romania

Remembering Dr. Catherine Kelleher