From Chapter One
In Hillary Rodham, the qualities of a firstborn high-achieving straight-A student, world-class organizer, determined operator, and gifted proselytizer were evident from the beginning. As a student at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Illinois, she took part in the speech and debate club, the student newspaper, the National Honor Society, and the annual music variety show. She was voted vice president of the class council, most likely to succeed, and chairman of the prom committee. Hillary had "a sense of her own importance. She was very ambitious," recalled Arthur Curtis, a former classmate at Hillary's high school in the Chicago suburbs. "I was an overachiever and it was impossible to upstage her."'
Curtis did upstage Hillary in one respectHillary graduated in the top 5 percent of her class, but he made valedictorian, not she. "She didn't take very many honors classes back then. So she really couldn't be first or second in the class, because you got more points for [honors classes]," he said. Hillary excelled in both academics and extracurricular activities, but in a clinch she put organizing, and later activism, first. Like many a budding politician, Hillary was a classic student leader type, "outgoing, civic-minded, and ambitious," as her classmate Penny Pullen, a future Republican state legislator in Illinois, recalled.
Though in awe of her talents and determination, some of Hillary's fellow students were put off by her palpable ambition. Penny Pullen pointed to Hillary's campaign to win the school's first Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizens Award for exhibiting the qualities of "dependability, service, leadership and patriotism." Hillary sought it because "she said it would look good on her résumé. Nobody went after it. I mean, that was not appropriate to go after it," Pullen said. "You got the award because of your citizenship activities, because of your concern for your country, not so you could get the award."
Hillary often cited her father Hugh Rodham as the source of her drive to succeed. Hugh was the child of hardworking immigrants from England; his father had gone to work at age eleven in the lace mills of Scranton, Pennsylvania; his strongwilled mother was known as Hannah Jones Rodham. Hugh grew up in Scranton, played football for Penn State, served in the navy in World War II, and took a job selling curtains in Chicago. He met Dorothy, his future wife, when she applied for a secretarial job at the same company.
Dorothy Howell had had a troubled upbringing. Born in Chicago to a fifteen-year-old Scottish-French mother and a seventeen-year-old Welsh father, her parents soon divorced and Dorothy and her younger sister were sent by train to live with their grandparents in Pasadena, California. According to an account given by Hillary, the grandparents raised the girls in hardscrabble environs, mistreating them with harsh and arbitrary discipline. At age fourteen, Dorothywho had learned to rely on the kindness of teachers for milk money-moved out of her grandparents' house and went to work in another woman's home, taking care of her children.
Hillary Diane was born in Chicago, and the family soon moved to Park Ridge, a new bedroom community outside Chicago where many G.I.s settled after the war to raise their families. In the provincial, overwhelmingly Republican, township, Hugh started his own small business (printing and making curtains). Dorothy, Hillary, and her two younger brothers, Hugh and Tony, helped out in the store, which also had one part-time employee. By local standards, the family was prosperous: Hugh drove a Cadillac and the family vacationed at a Pennsylvania cottage. But Hugh was not a professional, as were many of his neighbors. And he was famously frugal, possessed of a Depression-era mentality. Even in the dead of winter, Hillary recounted, he shut off the heat in the house every night, causing the children to wake up freezing in the morning.
Hillary's direct and sometimes chilly demeanorher high school classmates named her "Sister Frigidaire," predicting a future as a nunmay have reflected that of her father. "I think he ran a rather austere home. I don't think he was a bully in any respect, but I think I would describe him as fairly authoritarian," said the Reverend Don Jones, a close friend of Hillary's and youth minister at the Methodist church she attended in high school. Hugh, something of a social misfit in Park Ridge, struck the family friend and neighbor Rawls Williams as "kind of a recluse, kind of a moody guy. When [we] would go to watch baseball games, he sat by himself in a little lawn chair way down the third base line. Way out in left field by himself. And that was Mr. Rodham. He rarely socialized with anybody."
Hugh taught his daughter to read the stock tables in the newspaper and to play touch football with the boys. He was extremely demanding of all three children. As Hillary has told the story, no matter how hard she tried to please her father with good grades and extracurricular achievements, it never seemed to be enough. On being shown one of Hillary's straight-A report cards, Hugh once remarked, "You must have gone to an easy school." While a lesser spirit might have been crushed by this pattern of rejection, Hugh's attitude seemed only to spur Hillary on.
She also appeared to adopt her father's rather sharp-edged attitude toward others. "It's funny, since most Anglo-Saxon Protestants were taught this great emphasis on politeness and never hurting anybody's feelings, telling little white lies to make people not feel bad," Arthur Curtis said. "Hillary didn't have that. She didn't have that compulsion always to be polite." This characteristic bluntness of speech and occasional abrasiveness would elicit strong and contrasting reactions to Hillary throughout her public life.
Though not mentioned by Hillary as often, her mother, Dorothy, seems to have been at least as important an influence as Hugh. "Mr. Rodham had his own business, would go to work early, worked hard, and Mrs. Rodharn was more of a homebody," said Rawls Williams. "And I always felt that Mrs. Rodham was the driving force behind HillaryHillary says her dad was...in the stuff I have read. But I always felt that Mrs. Rodham was the driving force there."
Hillary pointed to her mother, not to Hugh, when recounting the most important lesson of her childhood. As the new kid on the block when her family moved to Park Ridge from Chicago, the four-year-old Hillary was teased and roughed up by an older girl, and returned home in tears every afternoon for weeks. One day, Dorothy met Hillary at the door, told her that there was no room in the house for cowards, and sent her back out to defend herself and confront the girl.
Not only the firstborn but also the only girl, Hillary seemed to garner the lion's share of Dorothy's attention. In prodding her daughter to distinguish herself in life, Dorothy may have been venting some of her own frustrations. Growing up in the Depression in the 1930s, she had barely been able to finish high school, much less consider a career. After her three children were grown, however, she managed to go back to school and earn a degree, the first mother in the neighborhood to do so.
Dorothy pushed Hillary "to be her own person and to do things and accomplish things," said one of Hillary's childhood friends, Judy Osgood. Dorothy herself told the Washington Post in 1992: "1 was determined that no daughter of mine was going to have to go through the agony of being afraid to say what she had on her mind." Dorothy had hoped that Hillary would be the first woman on the Supreme Court, "but Sandra Day O'Connor beat her to it," she told the Post interviewer.
Dorothy Rodham was grooming a future chief justice, not a prom queen; she inspired her daughter to succeed as a competent professional rather than get by on her looks. Dorothy taught Hillary not to fuss over her appearance or worry about how to catch a man. "[Some] male classmates say Hillary's plain looks discouraged romance," a 1994 profile of Hillary's high school graduating class in Chicago magazine reported. "She had an average figure and thick legs; she wore unflattering purple glasses and unfashionable sack dresses. 'Hillary wasn't considered a great catch,' a friend admits....'Guys didn't think she was attractive.'" Leon Osgood, who taught the Sunday School class Hillary attended at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, remembered Hillary as "too intelligent for the average boy." When it came time for the senior prom, Dorothy's neglect and Hugh's parsimony converged to put a damper on the occasion. "In a letter [Hillary] wrote to me while she was in high school," the Reverend Jones recalled, "she talked to me about going to the prom and getting her father to buy her a new dress, but she wrote, 'All of my girlfriends will look very well dressed next to me because it is so plain.' And then she wrote that she was surprised she got the dress at all and it probably was because her parents were going to be chaperones."
Though Hugh's staunch Republican politicshe had worked on behalf of Senator Robert Taft over Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952are well known, Dorothy's political views have been obscured in published accounts of Hillary's upbringing. Dorothy was probably a closet Democrat and would-be feminist in the right-wing Republican stronghold of Park Ridge, a center of John Birch Society activism. In an interview with the Toronto Star shortly after President Clinton's inauguration, Dorothy seemed to take issue with the popular portrait of Hillary as a "Goldwater girl," a born-and-bred conservative Republican, saying, "I don't think Hillary was ever really conservative except in a fiscal sense." According to Chicago magazine, Rick Ricketts, a close childhood friend of Hillary's, asked Dorothy at the presidential inaugural, "How in the world did Hillary get to be a Democrat?" Dorothy replied, "I was a Democrat." In a 1996 interview, even Hillary acknowledged a "sneaking suspicion" that Dorothy, though she had never said so, went against her husband and the local tide and voted for John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon in 1960. Hillary has also credited Dorothy as the source of her concern about social injustice.
Copyright © 1996 by David Brock