Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first First Lady elected to the United States Senate and the first female senator from New York, is currently campaigning to be the first woman nominated by a major party for president.  Running on the Democratic ticket, she is working hard to ensure that the press and American people do not see her as the wife of President Bill Clinton, but as a senator who has contributed much in her own right.

Hillary Diane Rodham was born near Chicago, Illinois in 1947 and reared by strict, middle-class parents.  They encouraged her to take education seriously, and she earned entrance to Massachusetts’ Wellesley College, one of the nation’s oldest colleges for women.  Her parents were Republicans and she served as president of Wellesley Republican club, but the burning issues of the late 1960s led her to become a dedicated Democrat.  When her classmates elected her as Wellesley’s first student speaker at graduation, she said to her peers: “The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.”

She graduated with honors as a political science major in 1969 and entered Yale Law School , where she served on the prestigious Board of Editors of the Yale Law Review.  It was there that Hillary met her future husband, William Jefferson Clinton.  Prior to their 1975 marriage, however, she  turned down offers from lucrative law firms to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, as well as and on the congressional committee that investigated the Watergate scandals. 

Moving to the university town of Fayetteville with marriage, she joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas Law School, and after her husband was elected as the state’s attorney general, joined the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock.  She became the firm’s first female partner in 1979, and while bearing and rearing daughter Chelsea, was listed in 1988 and 1991as one of the one hundred most influential lawyers in America. 

Hillary Rodham, as she called herself, continued to practice law after Bill Clinton became governor, while also serving as a more activist first lady than any in Arkansas history.  She led the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, which greatly improved schools, and promoted programs that benefit women -- such as Little Rock-based Heifer International, which allows third-world women to become economically independent by providing them with livestock.   Nationally, she served on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. 

Arkansas voters respected her desire to be called  “Rodham,” but when Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, she adopted the “Clinton” usage.  He upset incumbent President George H.W. Bush, and she became the first “first lady” to hold a law degree.  She continued her tradition of public service, most notably leading an attempt to reform the nation’s health care.  That failed when Republicans won a majority of Congress in 1994, but she continued to work on the edges of the issue, helping to establish the 1997 Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as well as the Adoption and Safe Families Act. She regarded these acts as her greatest accomplishment as first lady.

With the possible exception of Eleanor Roosevelt, who served prior to presidential term limits, Clinton  traveled more than previous first ladies.  She often took her daughter along when she visited women in Africa and Asia, and in 1995, she accepted right-wing criticism to join the American delegation that went to Beijing for the United Nation’s conference on women’s rights.  This convocation has been held every five years since 1975, but no first lady before or since has attended it.

As her husband’s second term wound down, she ran in 2000 for the New York Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Monahan, who supported her. Many accused her of being a “carpetbagger” because she had never lived in New York, but voters chose her by a solid 55% majority. She has served on four major Senate committees: Armed Services; Budget; Environment and Public Works; and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. New Yorkers gained confidence in her, and Clinton easily won her 2006 reelection.

On January 20, 2007 – the anniversary of her husband’s 1992 inauguration – Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for president, and joined the historic 2008 race. Although Clinton received roughly 18 million votes, she lost in the Democratic Primary to Senator Barack Obama, who went on to win the presidency. Clinton served as Secretary of State for the Obama administration from 2009-2013.


Works Cited:

  • Reprinted from NWHM Cyber Exhibit "Women Who Ran for President"