Who Was Hillary Clinton's Mom?

Hillary ClintonSad news today: Hillary Clinton's mother, Dorothy Howell Rodham, died early Tuesday morning at the age of 92, surrounded by her family. (Yes, her daughter was at her side; the Secretary of State canceled a trip to London and Istanbul in order to stick close.)

"Her story was a quintessentially American one, largely because she wrote it herself," the Clinton family said in a statement. "She overcame abandonment and hardship as a young girl to become the remarkable woman she was -- a warm, generous, and strong woman; an intellectual; a woman who told a great joke and always got the joke; an extraordinary friend, and, most of all, a loving wife, mother, and grandmother."

That's a lovely tribute. But reading it, it occurs to me, as perhaps it does to you, that I really don't know much about the mother of the woman who came pretty darn close to being our nation's first female president.

Here are a few things we should all know about Hillary Clinton's mom:


1. She had a rough childhood: Her parents fought (bitterly) and divorced (bitterly) when she was 8. Her dad won custody of her and her then-3-year-old sister, Isabelle, asserting their mother had abused them. But then he shipped the girls halfway across the country -- from Chicago to California -- by train (all on their own, without supervision) to live with their paternal grandparents, who were none too thrilled about the arrangement. (They were superstrict, once grounding Dorothy for a year for having the audacity to go trick-or-treating on Halloween!)

2. She had remarkable strength and perseverance: Dorothy left her grandparents' unhappy home at age 14 and took a job as a nanny, housekeeper, and cook for a nearby family, earning a weekly salary of $3, along with room and board. Her employers treated her kindly and urged her to continue with her education. She eventually enrolled in high school and was encouraged as well by two teachers, one of whom taught speech and drama and the other English.

3. She always hoped to better herself: After graduating from high school, she traveled to Chicago, where her mother, now remarried, promised to send her to college. When she got there, though, it turned out her mother had no intention of helping out with her daughter's education. Instead, she wanted Dorothy to work as her housekeeper!

4. She never gave up: After her mother dashed her dreams, Dorothy found work as a secretary and then married Hugh Rodham, a gruff businessman eight years older than she. (Hugh, who died in 1993, was a Republican; Dorothy leaned liberal.) Together they raised three children in a Chicago suburb. A stay-at-home mom, Dorothy taught her kids to be strong, confident, and undaunted in the face of adversity and challenges.

5. She inspired her children and grandchildren until the very end: Hillary said in 2007 that her mother served as her greatest inspiration, saying, "More personally, I owe it to my mother, who never got a chance to go to college, who had a very difficult childhood, but who gave me a belief that I could do whatever I set my mind."

Are you surprised to learn these details about Hillary Clinton's mom?


Image via IIP State/Flickr

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