Described as the first major U.S. female political figure since Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Rodham Clinton (born 1947) was considered a force to be reckoned with in American politics. Married to Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, she figured prominently in the Clinton administration with substantial influence on domestic policy-making.
A First Lady with an independent professional identity, Hillary Rodham Clinton had experience as a corporate lawyer, a tenacious fighter for educational reform, a nationally recognized expert on children's legal rights, and a director of both corporate and nonprofit boards. Hillary Diane Rodham was born on October 26, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois. She grew up with two younger male siblings in Park Ridge, a conservative, upper-class suburb north of the city. Her parents, Hugh and Dorothy Howell Rodham, reared their three children with traditional mid-American values that stressed family, church, school, and social obligations that evolved from the adage that "to whom much is given, much is expected."
As a youth Rodham was influenced by her religious training in Methodism, with its emphasis on personal salvation and active applied Christianity. A seminal influence in her teen years was a youth minister, the Reverend Don Jones, who introduced Rodham and her peers to some of the issues, causes, and movements of the time and who encouraged involvement in direct social action. It was under Jones's guidance that she read religious philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer; babysat the children of migrant farm workers; and met the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he came to Chicago on a speaking tour.
Rodham attended the public schools of Park Ridge and in 1965 enrolled in Wellesley College, where she majored in political science and took a minor in psychology. Her undergraduate years were important to her developing world view and growing sense of personal empowerment. An exceptional communicator, she was a catalyst for many of the movements for change occurring on the Wellesley campus and was involved also in a number of off-campus activities. She spent her final undergraduate summer in Washington, D.C., working for the House Republican Conference and returned to campus to spend her senior year as president of the student government. Graduating with highest distinction in 1969, Rodham gave the first student address delivered during commencement in the history of the college. In the fall she enrolled in Yale University Law School, where she was among 30 women in the class of 1972.
Experience in Washington, D.C.
Rodham's experiences at Yale helped to focus her areas of interest and commitment toward issues related to children, particularly poor and disadvantaged ones. She became acquainted with Marian Wright Edelman, a civil rights attorney who headed up the Washington Research Project, a non-profit group based in Washington, D.C., later to be known as the Children's Defense Fund. Spending a summer internship in Washington, D.C., Rodham was assigned by Edelman to Walter Mondale's Senate subcommittee, which was studying the plight of migrant families. In subsequent years at Yale she volunteered to work in the Yale Child Studies Center and the Yale-New Haven Hospital, assisted the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, and engaged in several other projects aimed at improving understanding of, and effecting improvements in, the legal system where children were concerned. An extra year of study at Yale prior to her graduation in 1973 further refined her expertise in child law issues.
After graduation Rodham moved to Washington and took a full-time position with the Children's Defense Fund. As staff attorney, she worked on juvenile justice problems, traveling the country comparing census data with school populations and becoming involved in litigations related to juvenile issues. In January 1974 she was chosen as one of 43 lawyers handpicked to work on the legal staff of the House Judiciary Committee, which was charged with preparing impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon resulting from the Watergate scandal. When Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, and the legal staff disbanded, she accepted a teaching position at the University of Arkansas Law School. It was in Arkansas in 1975 that she married Bill Clinton, whom she had met while attending Yale.
A Life in Little Rock
Two years after their marriage Bill Clinton became attorney general of Arkansas, and the couple moved to Little Rock. In 1977 Hillary Clinton joined the prestigious Rose Law Firm, said to be one of the oldest law firms west of the Mississippi River, and became involved in an area of law known as "intellectual property." Her primary focus, however, remained in the area of children's rights, and she helped found Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. She continued to write on the rights of children, revising an earlier article published in the Harvard Educational Review. The revised essay, "Children's Rights: A Legal Perspective," appearing in Children Rights: Contemporary Perspectives, developed and refined her arguments for the implementation of children's legal rights. She also was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the board of the Legal Services Corporation in Washington (1978 to 1981), a federally-funded program that provided legal assistance to the poor. In January 1978, following her husband's successful bid for the governorship, Clinton became Arkansas' first lady. Later that year she also became the first woman ever to become a partner in the Rose Law Firm. In February 1980 she gave birth to a daughter, Chelsea Victoria.
In her 11 years as first lady of Arkansas, Clinton continued to pursue activities aimed at public service and policy reforms in the state. In her husband's second term she served as chair of the Arkansas Education Standards Committee, established to study the state's educational system and to recommend changes in the standards for public schools. Released to the public in September 1983, the standards report was controversial in several aspects, although it would eventually become state law. In 1985 Hillary Clinton also gave leadership to the establishment in Arkansas of the Home Instruction Program for Pre-School Youngsters (HIPPY). The program, which brought instruction and tutorials into impoverished homes to teach four-and five-year-olds, became one of the largest programs in the country, with over 2,400 mothers participating.
In 1987 she was elected chairperson of the board of the Children's Defense Fund and of the New World Foundation, a philanthropic organization headquartered in New York that had helped launch the Children's Defense Fund. In that year, too, Hillary and Bill Clinton were awarded the National Humanitarian Award by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Enjoying a national prominence, Hillary Clinton held directorships on the boards of directors of several corporations, including Wal-Mart, TCBY Enterprises (yogurt), and Lafarge (cement). She would also be cited by the National Law Journal in 1988, and again in 1991, as one of the "One Hundred Most Influential Lawyers in America."
Analyses of Clinton were varied; however, they generally pointed to her "spiritual center" and her "continuous textured development." People magazine, as one example, noted that "her social concern and her political thought rest on a spiritual foundation" (January 25, 1993). The "politics of virtue" according to the The New York Times Magazine, informed the actions of the newest First Lady (May 23, 1993).
In the White House
As the wife of the president of the United States Clinton remained an advocate for many of the programs and issues to which she earlier devoted her time and professional expertise. Her stated goal of "making a difference" in the world led her to press for reforms in many aspects of the American system, including health care and child welfare. Hers is said to be "the most purely voiced expression of the collective spirit of the Clinton administration, a spirit that is notable … for the long reach of its reformist ambitions …." (The New York Times, May 23, 1993). She provided leadership in a number of areas, with the most notable appointment in the first year of the Clinton administration being head of the Task Force on National Health Care, with responsibility for preparing legislation, lobbying proposals before Congress, and marshaling strategy for passage of a comprehensive reform package.
Her White House agenda beyond health care reform included promoting diversity in personnel appointments—an effort she began with her role in the transition group—and pushing for children's issues. With an office in the White House's west wing, close to the center of power, Clinton was expected to remold the role of First Lady for the 21st century.
Clinton has remained an active and vital figure in the White House throughout her husband's presidency. In August of 1995, Hillary Clinton was invited to deliver the keynote address at the United Nations International Conference on Women near Beijing, China. Early in 1996 Clinton and her daughter Chelsea made a goodwill trip to South Asia, addressing women's issues in Pakistan and India.
In November 1996 Bill Clinton was re-elected president of the United States. In that same year Hillary Clinton published her first book entitled It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.
Further Reading on Hillary Rodham Clinton
Several biographies provide coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton's personal and professional life as well as her philosophical development and early tenure in the White House. These include the following: Norman King, Hillary: Her True Story (1993); Donnie Radcliffe, Hillary Rodham Clinton: A First Lady for Our Time (1993); and Judith Warner, Hillary Clinton: The Inside Story (1993). Short biographical articles and political analyses are found in a variety of magazines and newspapers. Recommended among these are Patricia O'Brien, "The First Lady with a Career?" Working Woman (August 1992); Margaret Carlson, "All Eyes on Hillary," TIME (September 14, 1992); Michael Kelly, "Saint Hillary," The New York Times Magazine (May 23, 1993); and "The Clintons: Taking Their Measure," U.S. News and World Report (January 31, 1994). Additional information may be obtained from the White House web site at http: //www.whitehouse.com.