Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947-) helped define the role of the modern political spouse and was one of the most accomplished first ladies in American history. A trained lawyer, she built a thriving career in the public and private sector, which she balanced with family life following her 1975 marriage to Bill Clinton. She was one of her husband’s closest advisors throughout his political career, which culminated in his election as president in 1992. As first lady, she focused on her lifelong interest in children’s issues and health care. The Clintons faced a series of personal and political crises while in the White House, during which the often-polarizing Hillary was subject to intense scrutiny and criticism. In 2000, she won a seat in the U.S. Senate, becoming the first first lady to win elected office. After a failed bid for the White House in 2008, Hilary Clinton was named U.S. Secretary of State by President Barack Obama in January 2009. In 2016, she ran again for president and made history by becoming the first woman to accept the nomination of a major political party.
Hillary Clinton's Childhood and Early Life
Hillary Diane Rodham was born on October 26, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in the nearby suburb of Park Ridge. The eldest child of Hugh Rodham, a fabric business owner, and Dorothy Howell, a homemaker, she joined the Girl Scouts and was named to the National Honor Society in high school.
Influenced by her father’s staunch Republican beliefs, Hillary canvassed Chicago neighborhoods for voter fraud following the 1960 presidential election, and volunteered for Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign. She was also exposed to opposing viewpoints by a local minister named Don Jones, who brought his youth group to hear the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver a speech at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall in 1962.
Actively engaged in student politics after enrolling at Wellesley College in 1965, Hillary became president of the Young Republicans Club as a freshman, and organized a student strike following King’s assassination in April 1968. She worked for both major political parties that year, but by the close of the tumultuous campaign cycle she was an avowed Democrat. Elected senior class president, she became the first student to deliver the Wellesley commencement address at Graduation Day 1969.
Legal Career and Meeting Bill
Moving on to Yale Law School, Hillary became a protégé of children’s rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman. She worked for Edelman’s Washington Research Project (later the Children’s Defense Fund), and served on the board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action. She also struck up what would become a lifelong relationship with fellow law student Bill Clinton.
Recommended for you
After a post-graduate year at Yale Child Study Center, Hillary was assigned to the presidential impeachment inquiry staff during the Watergate investigations. She bypassed the chance to continue building her career in Washington, D.C., instead joining Clinton as a faculty member of the University of Arkansas Law School. Following their October 1975 marriage and Clinton’s subsequent election to Arkansas Attorney General, she went to work for the Rose Law Firm in the state capital of Little Rock.
Hillary became the Rose Firm’s first female partner and a co-founder of the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. After Clinton was elected to the first of his five terms as Arkansas governor in 1978, she was named chair of the Rural Health Advisory Committee and the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee. She also joined the boards of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Defense Fund, TCBY and Wal-Mart, and was twice named to the National Law Journal’s list of the 100 most influential lawyers in America.
WATCH: Hillary Clinton: Fast Facts
Tenure as First Lady and Senator
The first presidential wife with a post-graduate degree, Hillary took charge of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform at the start of Clinton’s administration. The commission was abandoned by September 1994, but Hillary was successful in later efforts to spur the formation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Adoption and Safe Families Act. Drawing more scrutiny than her immediate predecessors, she was subpoenaed to testify about the failed Whitewater investments from her days as Arkansas first lady, and endured the revelations of her husband’s affairs with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
After succeeding retiring New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 2000, Hillary helped secure $21 billion for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. She supported the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but later became a harsh critic of the extended conflict in the region. A member of several Senate committees, including Armed Services and Environment and Public Works, she was easily reelected to her seat in 2006.
Presidential Bids and Secretary of State
Hillary announced her bid for the presidency in January 2007. While initially seen as a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, by the time voting began, she faced stiff competition from then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama. After a highly competitive primary, she suspended her campaign in June of 2008 and endorsed Obama. Shortly after Obama was elected president, he named Hillary as his secretary of state, making her the third female secretary of state in U.S. history.
As secretary of state, Hillary advocated for the use of “smart power” and sought to make women’s and human rights a central theme of her tenure. She presented the administration’s public response to the Arab Spring uprisings, and successfully pushed for a troop surge in Afghanistan and military intervention in Libya. She also drew criticism in the aftermath of a deadly September 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, for which she was called to testify before the House Foreign Relations Committee.
After stepping down as secretary of state in 2013, speculation began building around another presidential run in the 2016 election. Hillary announced her bid in April 2015. She immediately entered the race with high name-recognition and a powerful fundraising apparatus. Hillary's main competition in the Democratic primary was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a progressive populist who took aim at some of Hillary's more centrist policies. In August of 2016, after defeating Sanders, Hillary became the first woman in U.S. history to accept the nomination of a major political party. She named Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential running mate. In November of that year, however, she lost the election to Donald J. Trump, despite earning nearly 3 million more votes than him.
READ MORE: Women's History Milestones: A Timeline