Copyright, Attention: This website and its contents contain intellectual property copyright materials and works belonging to the National First Ladies’ Library and Historic Site and to other third parties. Please do not plagiarize. If you use a direct quote from our website please cite your reference and provide a link back to the source.
First Lady Biography: Hillary Clinton
HILLARY DIANE RODHAM CLINTON
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Date: 1947, October 26
Hugh Ellsworth Rodham, born 1911, April 2, Scranton, Pennsylvania, graduate of Pennsylvania State University, small textile supply owner; died, 1993, April 7 in Little Rock, Arkansas
Dorothy Emma Howell Rodham, born 1919, Chicago, Illinois; married to Hugh Rodham, 1942
Welsh, French, Scottish, Native American, English; Hillary Clinton's paternal grandfather Hugh Rodham was born in 1879 in Northumberland, England and immigrated to Pennsylvania to work at the Scranton Lace Company. Her maternal great-grandparents, the Howells, were immigrants from England and settled in California. Her maternal grandmother, Della Murray migrated from Canada to Illinois and married secondly to Max Rosenberg who was born in Russia in 1901.
Eldest of three; two brothers, Hugh E. Rodham, Jr. (born 1950) and Anthony Rodham (born 1954)
5' 6", blonde hair, blue eyes
Eugene Field Elementary School, Park Ridge, Illinois, 1953-1957; Ralph Waldo Emerson Middle School, Park Ridge, Illinois, 1957-1961; Maine Township High School, East and South, Park Ridge, 1961-1965, National Honor Society member; Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, 1965-1969, Senior Class president, addressed graduating class; Yale Law School, New Haven, Connecticut, 1969-1973, member of the board of editors, Yale Review of Law and Social Action, graduated with honors; Yale Child Study Center, 1973-1974, one post-graduate year of study on children and medicine
Occupation before Marriage:
As a young woman, Hillary Rodham worked as a babysitter both after school and during her vacation breaks, sometimes watching the children of migrant Mexicans brought to the Chicago area for itinerant work. She applied to NASA and was stunned when she was told that girls were not accepted for the astronaut program. Although she was active in young Republican groups and campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964, she was inspired to work in some form of public service after hearing a speech in Chicago by Reverend Martin Luther King. She worked at various jobs during her summers as a college student, once in a canning factory in Alaska, in 1969. In 1970, she secured a grant and first went to work for the Children's Defense Fund. The following summer, she first came to Washington, D.C. working on Senator Walter Mondale's (Minnesota Democrat) subcommittee on migrant workers, researching migrant problems in housing, sanitation, health and education. In the summer of 1972, she worked in the western states for the Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern's campaign. During her second year in law school, Hillary Clinton volunteered at Yale's Child Study Center, learning about new research on early childhood brain development, as well as New Haven Hospital, where she took on cases of child abuse and the city Legal Services, providing free legal service to the poor. Upon graduation from law school, she served as staff attorney for the Children’s Defense Fund in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the spring of 1974, she returned to Washington as a member of the presidential impeachment inquiry staff advising the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives during the Watergate Scandal. After the Nixon resignation in August of 1974, she became a faculty member of the University of Arkansas Law School, located in Fayetteville, where her Yale Law School classmate and boyfriend Bill Clinton was teaching as well.
27 years old, married 1975, October 11, Fayetteville, Arkansas to William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton, born 1946, August 19, Hope, Arkansas, professor of law, at their home; before he proposed marriage to Hillary Rodham, Bill Clinton secretly purchased a small house in Fayetteville that she had noticed and remarked that she had liked. When he proposed marriage to her and she accepted, he revealed that they owned the house. They married and lived here, briefly, before relocating to the state capital of Little Rock, Arkansas, from which he conducted his first campaign, for U.S. Congress.
One daughter; Chelsea Victoria Clinton, (born 1980, February 27)
Occupation after Marriage:
A year after her marriage, Hillary Clinton, retaining her maiden name for work, joined the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas. President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the board of the Legal Services Corporation in 1978. That same year, Bill Clinton was elected to the first of five terms as Governor of Arkansas. The following year she became a full partner at the Rose Law Firm. She was twice named to the list of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.” She also represented and later served on the board of Arkansas businesses including TCBY ("The Country's Best Yoghurt"), and Wal-Mart. As First Lady of Arkansas for twelve years, she chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and served on the boards of the Arkansas Children's Hospital, Legal Services, and the Children's Defense Fund. Mrs. Clinton wrote a weekly newspaper column entitled "Talking It Over."
Presidential Campaign and Inauguration:
During the 1992 Democratic primaries, several incidents occurred which proved to be the primary basis for much of the controversy and criticism that would be leveled at Hillary Clinton as First Lady. Before the New York primary, former California Governor Jerry Brown challenged Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton with suggestions that Hillary Clinton's work as an attorney involved state funds was unethical, hinting in general terms that she had somehow profited from her husband's position. Clinton himself remarked at the time that his wife would be a full partner if he became President, terming it a "two for one" deal. Finally, in response to some of these questions, Hillary Clinton sharply retorted to a journalist's question at a public appearance that was being covered by broadcast media that the only way a working attorney who happened to also be the governor's wife could have avoided any controversy would have been if she had "stayed home and baked cookies." The remark, frequently replayed on television as a single clip from her more explicit response, sparked public debate as to whether she was intending to demean the role of stay-at-home mother. It was further fueled by Republican party supporters who sought to claim that Hillary Clinton was not in line with "family values" a phrase that was often used in the campaign of 1992. At the Republican National Convention, several speakers, including conservative columnist Pat Buchanan and Vice Presidential wife Marilyn Quayle either mentioned Hillary Clinton by name or made allusions to her as an example of what their party was running against. In a lighter tone, Good Housekeeping magazine sponsored a cookie contest asking readers to vote for their choice of recipes used by the wives of the two presidential candidates. During the 1996 campaign, Hillary Clinton addressed the Democratic convention, underlining some of the Administration's policy gains and aspirations in children's and women's issues. At the 1993 Inauguration, the Clintons created a new precedent by having a president-elect's child, their daughter Chelsea, join at the podium at the moment of the oath-of-office administration.
1993, January 20 - 2001, January 20
45 years old
Within the first five days of becoming First Lady, Hillary Clinton was named by her husband to head the President's Task Force on Health Care Reform, overseeing research, investigatory trips, financial reports, numerous committees composed of medical and insurance professionals, lawmakers and other government officials, public service leaders, and consumer rights advocates. In this capacity, she became the third First Lady to testify before Congress, appearing to the House committee on health insurance reform in September 1993. When the plan devised was attacked as too complicated or an intention leading to "socialized medicine" the Administration decided not to push for a vote and it never came to a vote in the Senate or House, abandoned in September, 1994. Hillary Clinton's interest in the subject, however, had helped raise national consciousness about the problem of citizens who lived without any medical insurance and she began to address an assortment of other medical problems facing many citizens. Perhaps the most successful component of her accomplishments as First Lady was initiating the Children's Health Insurance Program in 1997, a federal effort that provided state support for those children whose parents were unable to provide them with health coverage. She also successfully sought to increase the research funding for illnesses such as prostate cancer and childhood asthma at the National Institute of Health. The First Lady also gave voice to the illnesses that were affecting veterans of the Gulf War, with the possibility of their suffering the toxic side effects of chemical "Agent Orange" used in warfare.
Although she assumed a less open political role after the failure of the health care reform plan, the efforts on behalf of which she focused were fully public. She cited the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 as the achievement she initiated and shepherded that provide her with the greatest satisfaction. Beginning with an article she wrote on orphaned children in 1995, through a series of public events on the issue, policy meetings with Health and Human Service officials, private foundation leaders, the drafting of policy recommendations, and eventually lobbying with legislators led to its passage. The First Lady led a second effort, the Foster Care Independence bill, to help older, unadopted children transition to adulthood. She also hosted numerous White House conferences that related to children's health, including early childhood development (1997) and school violence (1999). She lent her support to programs ranging from "Prescription for Reading," in which pediatricians provided free books for new mothers to read to their infants as their brains were rapidly developing, to nationwide immunization against childhood illnesses. She also supported an annual drive to encourage older women to seek a mammography to prevent breast cancer, coverage of the cost being provided by Medicare.
Hillary Clinton was the only First Lady to keep an office in the West Wing among those of the president's senior staff. While her familiarity with the intricate political issues and decisions faced by the President, she openly discussed his work with him, yet stated that ultimately she was but one of several individuals he consulted before making a decision. They were known to disagree. Regarding his 1993 passage of welfare reform, the First Lady had reservations about federally supported childcare and Medicaid. When issues that she was working on were under discussion at the morning senior staff meetings, the First Lady often attended. Aides kept her informed of all pending legislation and oftentimes sought her reaction to issues as a way of gauging the President's potential response. Weighing in on his Cabinet appointments and knowing many of the individuals he named, she had working relationships with many of them. She persuaded Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to convene a meeting of corporate CEOs for their advice on how companies could be persuaded to adopt better child care measures for working families. With Attorney General Janet Reno, the First Lady helped to create the Department of Justice's Violence Against Women office. One of her closest Cabinet allies was Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Following her international trips, Hillary Clinton wrote a report of her observations for Albright. A primary effort they shared was globally advocating gender equity in economics, employment, health care and education. During her trips to Africa (1997), Asia (1995), South America (1995, 1997) and the Central European former Soviet satellite nations (1997, 1998), Hillary Clinton emphasized "a civil society," of human rights as a road to democracy and capitalism. The First Lady was also one of the few international figures at the time who spoke out against the treatment of Afghani women by Islamist fundamentalist Taliban that had seized control of Afghanistan. One of the programs she helped create was Vital Voices, a U.S.-sponsored initiative to promote the participation of international women in their nation's political process. One result of the group's meetings, in Northern Ireland, was drawing together women leaders of various political factions that supported the Good Friday peace agreement that brought peace to that nation long at civil war. Hillary Clinton was also an active supporter of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), often awarding its micro-loans to small enterprises begun by women in developing nations that aided the economic growth in their impoverished communities. Certainly one of her more important speeches as First Lady addressing the need for equal rights for women was international in scope and created controversy in the nation where it was made: the September 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.
Hillary Clinton had encountered controversy from practically the beginning of her tenure.
By her having assuming a more overtly political role than any of her predecessors, Hillary Clinton was an easy target for the political opposition; oftentimes it was she personally that was attacked, beyond the words she spoke or actions she took. Much as Nancy Reagan had served as a target for her husband's opponents, so too did Hillary Clinton become a target for those who disagreed with the Administration. The American Conservative Union, for example, solicited money to fight what they termed the First Lady's "radical agenda." Not all of the controversy she engendered, however, was political. The same New York Times columnist, William Safire, who had attacked Nancy Reagan, now attacked Hillary Clinton. Much like Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady she most emulated and had studied, Hillary Clinton expected the partisan attacks as a result of activism. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, she wrote a newspaper column, a weekly syndicated piece, and made hundreds of speeches, oftentimes without notes. Also like Eleanor Roosevelt, she authored books during her tenure. For the spoken word version of her book regarding family policies, It Takes a Village, Hillary Clinton was the recipient of the recording industry's Grammy Award.
Just five months into the Administration, with the firing of the White House travel office staff, followed to months later by the suicide of Vincent Foster, White House counsel and friend and former law partner of the First Lady, Hillary Clinton found herself implicated in numerous investigations. At the end of 1993, a story broke in the media that a Justice Department investigation into a failed Arkansas real estate venture, concerning a potential development in the Ozarks called "Whitewater," mentioned her as a potential witness in the inquiry; there were immediate suggestions in the opposition press that she had somehow illegally profited. There was similar media speculation when it was disclosed that she had greatly profited in trading cattle futures through an experienced investor. All of this concerned matters long past to the 1992 campaign and the First Lady held an April 22, 1994 press conference in which she explained the details as proof of her not having taken any illegal actions. Political pressure, however, led to the President's appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the charges, a move the First Lady opposed. On January 26, 1996, she testified before a grand jury concerning the Whitewater scandal. Over time, the parameters of the investigation would enlarge to include other charges made against the President and First Lady that were questionable in their validity. In every case, the investigations led to no criminal charges against Hillary Clinton. In time, the personal behavior of the President during an illicit affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky would be the only charge in which he would be found guilty, leading to the historic articles of impeachment brought against him in late 1998, of which he was acquitted in February of 1999. During the Lewinsky scandal, Hillary Clinton supported her husband's contentions of innocence regarding marital infidelity, believing the rumors, along with the other charges, to be the result of a "vast right-wing conspiracy." In August 1998, however, when independent counsel Kenneth Starr questioned the President directly in the White House, he confessed that he had lied regarding the extent of the affair. Hillary Clinton later admitted to being deeply wounded personally yet focusing on the public repercussions of the President's disclosure, made a strong statement of commitment to him and the Administration, believing a private matter had been wrong turned into a political attack. Her support of him at that critical juncture was believed by many media commentators at that emotionally heightened time to be an important factor, if not the greatest factor, in preventing a call for his resignation.
Hillary Clinton did not ignore the traditional role of First Lady. With a lifelong interest in regional American history, she initiated the Save America's Treasures program, a national effort that matched federal funds to private donations to rescue from deterioration and neglect, or restore to completion many iconic historic items and sites, including the flag which inspired the Star Spangled Banner, and the National First Ladies Historic Site in Canton, Ohio. As part of the Millennium Project which she initiated, monthly lectures that considered both America's past and forecasted its future were held in the East Room, and one of these became the first live simultaneous webcast from the mansion. In the White House, she initiated the first Sculpture Garden, which displayed large contemporary American works of art loaned from museums in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden on a rotating basis. In the White House state rooms, she placed on rotating display the donated handicrafts (pottery, glassware, etc.) of contemporary American artisans. She oversaw the restoration of the Blue Room on the state floor, and the redecoration of the Treaty Room into the President's study on the second floor. Using a unique venue of large white tents on the South Lawn that could accompany several thousand guests, she hosted many large entertainments, such as a St. Patrick's Day reception, a state dinner for visiting Chinese dignitaries, and a contemporary music concert that raised funds for music education in the public schools. For all the foods served in the White House, she hired a chef whose expertise was in American regional cooking. She also hosted a massive New Year's Eve party on the turning of the 20th century into the 21st century, as well as the November 2000 Bicentennial of the White House state dinner, an event at which more former Presidents and First Ladies were gathered together in the mansion than at any other time in its history.
In 1999, Hillary Clinton formed an exploratory committee to pursue the possibility of running for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan (New York Democrat) and she officially declared herself a candidate for the position several months later. On November 7, 2000, Hillary Clinton became the first First Lady ever elected to public office, winning the U.S. Senate seat from New York State.
Sworn in as a U.S. Senator on January 1, 2001 but remaining First Lady until January 20 of that year, Hillary Clinton served simultaneously for twenty days as a member of one branch of government while married to the leader of another branch. She would not indulge the immediate media and public speculation that she would run for President of the United States in 2004, and then in 2008; instead she focused on and publicly discussed her work, assuming the lower public profile typical of most freshmen Senators.
Hillary Clinton sat on four Senate Committees with a total of eight subcommittee assignments: Senate Committee on Armed Services with three subcommittee assignments, on Airland, on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, and on Readiness and Management Support; Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with three subcommittee assignments on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property, and Nuclear Safety, on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water and on Superfund, Waste Control, and Risk Assessment; the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, with two subcommittee assignments, on Aging and on Children and Families; and the Senate Special Committee on Aging. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center in downtown New York City, Senator Clinton worked to secure $21.4 billion in funding to assist clean up and recovery, to provide health tracking for first responders and volunteers at Ground Zero and to create grants for redevelopment. In 2005, she issued two studies that examined the disbursement of federal homeland security funds to local communities and first responders. Senator Clinton visited American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq during the U.S. war in those nations. She became a national advocate both in public and in her Senate work on behalf of retaining and improving health and other benefits for veterans. As an advocate for her state, Senator Clinton led a bipartisan effort to bring broadband access to rural communities; co-sponsored the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act; included language in the Energy Bill to provide tax exempt bonding authority for environmentally conscious construction projects; and introduced an amendment calling for funding of new job creation to repair, renovate and modernize public schools. Senator Clinton won an extension of Unemployment Insurance, which passed on the first day of the 108th Congress. She was a vocal opponent of the Bush Administration's tax cuts.
Her memoirs Living History were published in 2003 and sold over 3 million copies both in the U.S. and in other nations; it was eventually translated into foreign languages including Chinese. When her husband, former President Clinton required immediate heart surgery in October of 2004, Senator Clinton cancelled her public schedule to be with him. She resides in Chappaqua, New York and Washington, D.C.
On 20 January 2007, two years to the day before the next presidential inauguration, Senator Clinton filed with the Federal Elections Commission to declare her formation of an exploratory presidential campaign committee. Nine months later, she formally declared her candidacy for the U.S. Presidency. This was unprecedented. Clinton proved to be the first woman in history who occupied a position of elective national office as a member of a national party to enter and remain in a presidential primary race to the end of the season. She was also, of course, the only wife of a former President to enter any type of electoral race on a national level and the unusual precedent vied only with her own record in having run for and been elected to the U.S. Senate, since no other woman who would be or had been First Lady had stood for public office. Eleanor Roosevelt’s role at the United Nations was appointed. The only remotely close situation occurred in the years of the American Revolution before her husband’s presidency when Abigail Adams was chosen among several leading Boston women to serve as a “judgess” in determining the penalty to be imposed on Tory women loyal to the English monarchy.
Throughout the end of 2007 and into early 2008, Senator Clinton joined in several debates with all the other Democratic presidential candidates. In January of 2008, she began the primary season, campaigning across the country, and continuing her fundraising, which would total over $100 million. Although she had been predicted through 2007 as the favored candidate and likely nominee of her party, she found her Senate colleague Barack Obama, who represented her own native state of Illinois to be a formidable challenger. Despite her many political achievements as First Lady, it proved difficult to emphasize them since she had done so in a position that was neither official nor elective. Among the states she won in the primaries were New Hampshire, California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Indiana. Senator Clinton garnered 1,896 delegates; a total of 2,201 were required for the nomination.
On 3 June 2008, Senator Obama won the necessary number of delegate pledges. Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign several days later and delivered a stirring concession speech in Washington, D.C. to her supporters, emphasizing that she was not interested in having a cult personality following but in her party achieving dramatic change in the executive branch. She addressed the National Democratic Convention and endorsed the candidacy of Obama. Throughout the fall, she campaigned vigorously on his behalf and after he won the 2008 election, he named her as his Secretary of State.
SECRETARY OF STATE
In January of 2009, Hillary Clinton became the 67th Secretary of State, the third woman and the only former First Lady to serve in this capacity. The position’s duties are to serves as the primary advisor on foreign affairs to the President and also enact presidential policy decisions through her department, which also includes the U.S. Foreign Service. She is also responsible for negotiating with foreign leaders on policy and treaties, granting passports, suggesting and advising the President on individuals for the posts of ambassador, consul and minister, and on which foreign government representatives to receive or dismiss.
A great part of Secretary Clinton’s public role is leading or joining global conferences and other international meetings on a variety of issues. She is also considered responsible for the protection of U.S. property and citizens that are in foreign countries, and oversees the administration of U.S. immigration laws abroad. Further, at her recommendation and approval, warnings and other necessary postings are made to alert American citizens traveling abroad in case their well-being is considered to be potentially threatened.
Halfway through the first term of the Obama Administration, Secretary Clinton had traveled over half a million miles to 77 countries. She has employed not only the diplomatic tactics traditionally used by those in her position, but political skills also learned through her White House and Senate years. She has often presented a tough stance on behalf of the United States with both allies and aggressors towards it. She called the action of U.S. ally Israel of building settlements in disputed areas with Palestine to be “insulting,” threatened action along with urging Iran to forego a nuclear weapons development, and harshly criticized the firing of short-range missiles by North Korea into South Korea as “provocative and belligerent behavior,” as “threatening peace and stability in Asia.” A strong supporter of fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan, stating its long-time security as crucial to global safety, she vigorously urged that nation’s beleaguered president Harmad Kharzi into assuming a more pro-active role in reducing the terrorist influence of the Taliban in his country. She was also the leading American voice criticizing the 2010 disclosures of confidential information through Wikileaks.
As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has focused special attention beyond her required duties to focus on the international rights of women, economic empowerment in financially depressed regions of the world, and held “town hall” type meetings with direct questioning from the public, whether in the United States or other countries. Equal access to education, employment, health care and legal recourse for women in all countries has been an unwavering aspect of her career from First Lady to Senator to Secretary of State. She is aided in this effort by Melanne Verveer, who had served as Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff during her years as First Lady. Verveer is a State Department Ambassador-at-Large and runs its Office of Global Women's Issues, focused on the political, economic, and social empowerment of women. Another woman who has been with Mrs. Clinton since her White House years is Huma Abedin, who worked as her primary aide, traveling across the U.S. with her during the 2008 campaign, and now continues that duty in the role of traveling chief of staff.
Secretary Clinton has used the venue of an open town-hall type forum to deliver addresses on policy and also take questions from the press and public. She gave almost one dozen of these in just her first two years as Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. She also conducted the town-hall interviews around the world, giving a sense of the breadth of her travels: Manama, Bahrain, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Astana, Kazakhstan, Melbourne, Australia, Christchurch, New Zealand, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Pristina, Kosovo, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Islamabad, Pakistan (twice), Tbilisi, Georgia, Kyiv, Ukraine, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Doha, Qatar, Manila, Philippines, Lahore, Pakistan, Moscow, Russia, Abuja, Nigeria, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nairobi, Kenya, Bangkok, Thailand, New Delhi, India, Mumbai, India, Baghdad, Iraq, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Monterrey, Mexico, Brussels, Belgium, Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo, Japan.
Hillary Clinton has continued to enjoy a diverse and unprecedented career in public service. In a 15 July 2009 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she offered her forecast of the challenges and opportunities of the U.S. as it entered the second decade of the 21st Century: "We are determined to channel the currents of change toward a world free of violent extremism, nuclear weapons, global warming, poverty, and abuses of human rights, and above all, a world in which more people in more places can live up to their God-given potential.”
Not only the press and public of the U.S. but much of the world continued its avid interest in the life of Hillary Clinton, from her career to the July 2010 wedding of her only child, daughter Chelsea.