Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) was born in Chicago on Oct. 26, 1947 to Hugh and Dorothy Rodham. Her father was the son of English parents who won a football scholarship at Pennsylvania State University. Hugh worked in the textile supply indsutry and was a successful provider for his family. The Rodhams lived for many years at 235 Wisner Street in Park Ridge when Hillary was growing up. Hillary was the first child and she had two younger brothers, Hugh, Jr. and Tony. She is the fourth First Lady to have lived for more than ten years in Illinois. The other three were Mary Todd Lincoln, Julia Dent Grant, and Nancy Davis Reagan. Mrs. Betty Ford was born in Chicago but raised in Michigan.
Hillary Rodham had a fairly normal childhood in an above average income suburb. She was a member of the Girl Scouts and was very active in a youth group at the Methodist Church. Many biographers have credited ministers at her church with instilling in Hillary and some of her youth group friends a very strong sense of duty to work for social and civic reforms.
While she was a student at Maine East Township High School, Hillary was a good student who was also active in food drives and in student government. But she was not always serious. Her brothers played football and Hillary played tennis, softball, and volleyball. When she graduated from Maine East in 1965, she was a member of the National Honor Society.
There is an often-told anecdote about her that in 1964 Hillary particpated as a "Goldwater Girl" at rallies for Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R-Arizona), the GOP candidate for president. She has told the story herself. The anecdote is true but very limited to one or two events. She had little if any exposure to the books and other intellectual influences of American conervatism as it was in 1964. However, Hillary's father Hugh Rodham, Sr. was a staunch backer of Sen. Goldwater at the local level in Park Ridge and he was still describing himself as a Republican shortly before he died in 1993.
Hillary was also a good student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts from 1965 to 1969 and remained active in student government and outside political interests. There she was exposed to the normal liberal academic tradition that was so dominant in the 1960s. She graduated with honors in 1969 and was accepted at the Yale University School of Law. While at Yale, she served on the board of editors for the Yale Law Review. It was at Yale that Hillary met a fellow student, Bill Clinton from Arkansas, whom she married in 1975. For a short time after graduation from Law School in 1972, Hillary worked as a counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during a time when it was investigating the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration. Hillary moved to Arkansas in 1974 to work on Bill Clinton's unsuccessful campaign for Congress.
After their marriage in 1975, Hillary started to practice law in Little Rock. She eventually joined the Rose Law Firm which was one of the top two or three firms in the state at that time. During her husband's terms as governor, she served a total of twelve years as the First Lady of Arkansas and managed to balance many different duties as a lawyer, mother, and civic leader.
In 1992 when her husband was elected president, Hillary in a somewhat unusual position relative to her husband than other First Ladies had been. To a degree not seen since Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary was a very active political partner for her husband and a policy advisor outside of the normal family and ceremonial life in The White House. The president asked her to chair a commission to study and propose plans to overhaul the national health care system which up until that time had been based in the private sector with a limited role for government.
The first problem was that Hillary's health care task force met in secret and would not open up its records and hearings until ordered to do so by a federal judge who was reacting to complaints by some conservative doctor's organizations other than the AMA. When details of legislation drafted by the Health Care Task Force started to leak out, groups that has supported the task force began to worry that the plans were too sweeping in their scope and might interfere with the individual's relationship with their personal doctor if he or she was not part of a government approved plan.
Led by critical TV commercials, public opinion turned against the work of the task force in 1994 and it became a major issue in the congressional elections of that year. Critics accused Hillary of leading a crusade to impose in effect a government takeover of one-sixth of the American economy and such an overly broad socialistic program was not consistent with her husband's prior reputation as a centrist Democrat. Partly in reaction to the health care plan, the declining popularity of President Clinton, and scandals in Congress, the Democrats lost their majorities in both houses of Congress in the fall 1994 elections.
Although Congress remained Republican for the last six years of the Clinton Administration, Clinton regained popularity in a generally good economy and he defeated Bob Dole in 1996. But the Health Care Task Force power grab made almost all Republicans and a few Democrats nervous about how liberal Hillary and Bill Clinton were. Their most severe critics likened their goals for America as beeing too similar to the plans of Social Democrats in Europe where government played a much larger role in national economies. Hillary also suffered public relations black eyes from investigations into the couple's real estate investments in the Whitewater development in Arkansas and her personal profits in commodties investing, an area which she had never before or since shown any expertise.
Her relationship with her husband reached a low point in 1998 when she at first defended him against charges of personal infidelity with a younger White House intern but later was as disappointed as any wife might be over his ultimate admission that the charges were true.
But none of this mattered for the fans of Hillary and she became very popular with some segments of the country while remaining unpopular with other segments who differed with her social views on the role of government in taking care of children as opposed to those who believe that is the primary responsibility of parents.
Hillary was elected U.S. Senator from New York in 2000 and was re-elected in 2006. She was the first former First Lady to run for office on her own and the first woman elected statewide in New York on her own ballot line. She is considered one of the leading contenders for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and has many donors and supporters who favor her nomination. The only unusual thing about Hillary as a politcal phenomenon continues to be the fact that polls show Americans very sharply divided about her attributes as a candidate.
While many voters are enthusiastic about her as a public figure, a very large number of people who respond to polls also say she would be their very last choice for public office. In the parlance of pollsters, her unfavorables are almost as high as her favorables and the intensity factor on both sides is also high. There seem to be very few voters who react in a neutral way about Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Her strategy in recent years has been to project a more moderate political image than was the case in her early White House years in the 1990s. She voted for the Iraq War resolution along with many other Democratic senators and has so far rejected calls for a precipitous pull out of American troops on a timetable. Sen. Clinton is a genuine celebrity in the Democratic Party and on the national and international stage as well. Politics is a highly volatile profession and only time will tell if this Illinois native might reach an even higher plateau of fame than she has so far.