Excerpt: Hillary a biography by Karen Blumenthal

This excerpt from Karen Blumenthal’s revealing biography introduces us to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the girl who became the most powerful woman in America.

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Hillary Diane Rodham had an unusual upbringing for a young girl growing up in the fifties. Her parents told her, "You can do or be whatever you choose, as long as you're willing to work for it." Hillary took those words and ran.

Whether it was campaigning at the age of thirteen in the 1964 presidential election, being featured in LIFE magazine as the first student commencement speaker at Wellesley, or graduating from Yale Law School, she stood out from the pack.

And that was only the beginning. From First Lady of the United States to the first female Senator of New York and most recently as the US Secretary of State, it appears nothing can stop Hillary’s race to the top.

Karen Blumenthal’s biography covers Hillary’s life from early childhood to her current campaign to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 2016.

This is a rich and insightful portrait of a remarkably accomplished and enigmatic woman.


Extracted from Chapter 1: Roots

Hilary Clinton
Image via Forbes

The first child of Hugh Ellsworth Rodham and Dorothy Howell Rodham entered the world at more than eight pounds, a bigger-than-average bundle of joy.

“Very mature upon birth,” her mother joked.

Born 26th October 1947, the good-natured little girl was part of the baby boom that followed the end of World War II. Her parents named her Hillary Diane, a daring choice, since Hillary was generally considered a boy’s name at the time. Her mother liked it because it was unusual and sounded exotic.

After little brother Hugh arrived, the growing family moved from Chicago to the suburb of Park Ridge, known for its fine public schools, parks, and nice-sized houses. Her father paid cash for a two-story home in a neighbourhood swarming with children all about the same age. When the weather was good, the streets brimmed with games of cops and robbers, hide-and-seek, or the more elaborate chase-and-run, as well as pickup softball or kickball.

 Her mother told her, "You have to stand up for yourself. There’s no room in this house for cowards."

As a newcomer, Hillary was tested by the other kids, especially a girl named Suzy, who had four brothers. Suzy was used to getting into scuffles, and her physical play often sent Hillary running home in tears. Finally, her mother told her, “You have to stand up for yourself. There’s no room in this house for cowards.” She gave her young daughter permission to hit back if Suzy hit her.

While her mother peeked out from the curtains, Hillary went back outside. Threatened again by Suzy, the four-year-old threw a punch.

The bullying stopped. And Hillary proudly reported to her mom, “I can play with the boys now!”

Hillary’s mom wanted Hillary, Hugh, and their baby brother, Tony, to have more opportunities and a better family life than she had. As a child, Dorothy had often been pushed off on relatives or left at home by herself for hours at a time. Her parents divorced when she was eight, and she and her three-year-old sister were sent alone on the day-long train ride to California to live with her father’s parents. Her grandmother was unusually strict, and once, Dorothy was grounded for months as punishment for trick-or-treating on Halloween. At fourteen, she escaped by getting a job as live-in help for a family.

Never able to attend college, she had returned to Chicago after high school and got a job. Through her work, she met Hugh, a travelling salesman who was eight years older. She was twenty-two years old when she married him in early 1942, just after the United States entered World War II.

“She was kind of an exasperating little girl because she was right most of the time.” 


As a full-time homemaker and mother, Dorothy cooked, washed, cleaned, and served. When Hillary came home from school for lunch, as kids did then, she fed her canned tomato or chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, cut into triangles. Dorothy also shared life lessons. Once, she showed her kids a spirit level, with an air bubble floating in the centre, as an example of how to stay centred and balanced.

“You try to keep that bubble in the centre,” she told them. “Sometimes it will go way up here,” she demonstrated, “and you have to bring it back.”

Though the family had a television set, it wasn’t on much—nor was there much on television in those years.

Free family time was spent playing card games like war, slapjack, or pinochle or board games like Monopoly and Cluedo. Dorothy took her bright and curious daughter to the library every week for new books and encouraged her to pursue her own interests.

“She was kind of an exasperating little girl because she was right most of the time,” her mother recalled later.

Dorothy felt boxed in by restrictive women’s roles during the 1950s, and in response, she encouraged her oldest child to be her own person. “I 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,” she told an interviewer later.

This short excerpt is taken from Hillary: A Biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton by Karen Blumenthal.


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Feature image via A Katz