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Living History

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LIVING HISTORY by Hillary Clinton

Simon & Schuster.

To my parents,

my husband,

my daughter

and all the good souls around the world

whose inspiration, prayers, support and love

blessed my heart and sustained me in

the years of living history.


In 1959, I wrote my autobiography for an assignment in sixth grade. In twenty-nine pages, most half-filled with earnest scrawl, I described my parents, brothers, pets, house, hobbies, school, sports and plans for the future. Forty-two years later, I began writing another memoir, this one about the eight years I spent in the White House living history with Bill Clinton. I quickly realized that I couldn’t explain my life as First Lady without going back to the beginning―how I became the woman I was that first day I walked into the White House on January 20, 1993, to take on a new role and experiences that would test and transform me in unexpected ways.

By the time I crossed the threshold of the White House, I had been shaped by my family upbringing, education, religious faith and all that I had learned before―as the daughter of a staunch conservative father and a more liberal mother, a student activist, an advocate for children, a lawyer, Bill’s wife and Chelsea’s mom.

For each chapter, there were more ideas I wanted to discuss than space allowed; more people to include than could be named; more places visited than could be described. If I mentioned everybody who has impressed, inspired, taught, influenced and helped me along the way, this book would be several volumes long. Although I’ve had to be selective, I hope that I’ve conveyed the push and pull of events and relationships that affected me and continue to shape and enrich my world today.

Since leaving the White House I have embarked on a new phase of my life as a U.S.

Senator from New York, a humbling and daunting responsibility. A complete account of my move to New York, campaign for the Senate and the honor of working for the people who elected me will have to be told another time, but I hope this memoir illustrates how my success as a candidate for the Senate arose out of my White House experiences.

During my years as First Lady, I became a better student of how government can serve people, how Congress really works, how people perceive politics and policy through the filter of the media and how American values can be translated into economic and social progress. I learned the importance of America’s engagement with the rest of the world, and I developed relationships with foreign leaders and an understanding of foreign cultures that come in handy today. I also learned how to keep focused while living in the eye of many storms.

I was raised to love my God and my country, to help others, to protect and defend the democratic ideals that have inspired and guided free people for more than zoo years.

These ideals were nurtured in me as far back as I can remember. Back in 1959, I wanted to become a teacher or a nuclear physicist. Teachers were necessary to “train young citizens”

and without them you wouldn’t have “much of a country” America needed scientists because the “Russians have about five scientists to our one.” Even then, I was fully a product of my country and its times, absorbing my family’s lessons and America’s needs as I considered my own future. My childhood in the 1950s and the politics of the 1960s awakened my sense of obligation to my country and my commitment to service. College, law school and then marriage took me into the political epicenter of the United States.

A political life, I’ve often said, is a continuing education in human nature, including one’s own. My involvement on the ground floor of two presidential campaigns and my duties as First Lady took me to every state in our union and to seventy-eight nations. In each place, I met someone or saw something that caused me to open my mind and my heart and deepen my understanding of the universal concerns that most of humanity shares.

I always knew that America matters to the rest of the world; my travels taught me how the rest of the world matters to America. Listening to what people in other countries are saying and trying to under stand how they perceive their place in the world is essential to a future of peace and security at home and abroad. With this in mind, I have included voices we don’t hear often enough―voices of people in every corner of the globe who want the same things we do: freedom from hunger, disease and fear, freedom to have a say in their own destinies, no matter their DNA or station in life. I have devoted considerable space in these pages to my foreign travels because I believe that the people and places are important, and what I learned from them is part of who I am today.

The two Clinton terms covered not only a transforming period in my life but also in America’s. My husband assumed the Presidency determined to reverse the nation’s economic decline, budget deficits and the growing inequities that undermined opportunities for future generations of Americans.

I supported his agenda and worked hard to translate his vision into actions that improved people’s lives, strengthened our sense of community and furthered our democratic values at home and around the world. Throughout Bill’s tenure, we encountered political opposition, legal challenges and personal tragedies, and we made our fair share of mistakes.

But when he left office in January 2001, America was a stronger, better and more just nation, ready to tackle the challenges of a new century.

Of course, the world we now inhabit is very different from the one described in this book. As I write this in 2003, it seems impossible that my time in the White House ended only two years ago. It feels more like another lifetime because of what happened on September 11, 2001. The lost lives. The human grief. The smoldering crater. The twisted metal. The shattered survivors. The victims’ families. The unspeakable tragedy of it all.

That September morning changed me and what I had to do as a Senator, a New Yorker and an American. And it changed America in ways we are still discovering. We are all on new ground, and somehow we must make it common ground.

My eight years in the White House tested my faith and political beliefs, my marriage and our nation’s Constitution. I became a lightning rod for political and ideological battles waged over America’s future and a magnet for feelings, good and bad, about women’s choices and roles. This book is the story of how I experienced those eight years as First Lady and as the wife of the President. Some may ask how I could write an accurate account of events, people and places that are so recent and of which I am still a part.

I have done my best to convey my observations, thoughts and feelings as I experienced them. This is not meant to be a comprehensive history, but a personal memoir that offers an inside look at an extraordinary time in my life and in the life of America.


I wasn’t born a first lady or a senator. I wasn’t born a Democrat. I wasn’t born a lawyer or an advocate for women’s rights and human rights. I wasn’t born a wife or mother. I was born an American in the middle of the twentieth century, a fortunate time and place.

I was free to make choices unavailable to past generations of women in my own country and inconceivable to many women in the world today. I came of age on the crest of tumultuous social change and took part in the political battles fought over the meaning of America and its role in the world.

My mother and my grandmothers could never have lived my life; my father and my grandfathers could never have imagined it. But they bestowed on me the promise of America, which made my life and my choices possible.

My story began in the years following World War II, when men like my father who had served their country returned home to settle down, make a living and raise a family.

It was the beginning of the Baby Boom, an optimistic time. The United States had saved the world from fascism, and now our nation was working to unite former adversaries in the aftermath of war, reaching out to allies and to former enemies, securing the peace and helping to rebuild a devastated Europe and Japan.

Although the Cold War was beginning with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, my parents and their generation felt secure and hopeful. American supremacy was the result not just of military might, but of our values and of the abundant opportunities available to people like my parents who worked hard and took responsibility. Middle-class America was flush with emerging prosperity and all that comes with it―new houses, fine schools, neighborhood parks and safe communities.

Yet our nation also had unfinished business in the postwar era, particularly regarding race. And it was the World War II generation and their children who woke up to the challenges of social injustice and in equality and to the ideal of extending America’s promise to all of its citizens.

My parents were typical of a generation who believed in the endless possibilities of America and whose values were rooted in the experience of living through the Great Depression.

They believed in hard work, not entitlement; self-reliance not self-indulgence.

That is the world and the family I was born into on October 26, 1947. We were middle-class, Midwestern and very much a product of our place and time. My mother, Dorothy Howell Rodham, was a homemaker whose days revolved around me and my two younger brothers, and my father, Hugh E. Rodham, owned a small business. The challenges of their lives made me appreciate the opportunities of my own life even more.

I’m still amazed at how my mother emerged from her lonely early life as such an affectionate and levelheaded woman. She was born in Chicago in 1919. Her father, Edwin John Howell, Jr., was a Chicago firefighter, and his wife, Della Murray, was one of nine children from a family of French Canadian, Scottish and Native American ancestry. My maternal grandparents were certainly not ready for parenthood. Della essentially abandoned my mother when she was only three or four, leaving her alone all day for days on end with meal tickets to use at a restaurant near their five-story walk-up apartment on Chicago’s South Side. Edwin paid sporadic attention to her, better at bringing the occasional gift, like a large doll won at a carnival, than at providing any kind of home life. My mother’s sister, Isabelle, was born in 1924. The girls were often shuttled from one relative to another and from school to school, never staying anywhere long enough to make friends. In 1927, my mother’s young parents finally got a divorce―rare in those days and a terrible shame. Neither was willing to care for their children, so they sent their daughters from Chicago by train to live with their paternal grandparents in Alhambra, a town near the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles. On the four-day journey, eight-yearold Dorothy was in charge of her three-year-old sister.

My mother stayed in California for ten years, never seeing her mother and rarely seeing her father. Her grandfather, Edwin, Sr., a former British sailor, left the girls to his wife, Emma, a severe woman who wore black Victorian dresses and resented and ignored my mother except when enforcing her rigid house rules. Emma discouraged visitors and rarely allowed my mother to attend parties or other functions. One Halloween, when she caught my mother trick-or-treating with school friends, Emma decided to confine her to her room for an entire year, except for the hours she was in school. She forbade my mother to eat at the kitchen table or linger in the front yard. This cruel punishment went on for months until Emma’s sister, Belle Andreson, came for a visit and put a stop to it.

My mother found some relief from the oppressive conditions of Emma’s house in the outdoors. She ran through the orange groves that stretched for miles in the San Gabriel Valley, losing herself in the scent of fruit ripening in the sun. At night, she escaped into her books. She was an excellent student whose teachers encouraged her reading and writing.

By the time she turned fourteen, she could no longer bear life in her grandmother’s house. She found work as a mother’s helper, caring for two young children in return for room, board and three dollars a week. She had little time for the extracurricular athletics and drama that she loved and no money for clothes. She washed the same blouse every day to wear with her only skirt and, in colder weather, her only sweater. But for the first time, she lived in a household where the father and mother gave their children the love, attention and guidance she had never received. My mother often told me that without that sojourn with a strong family, she would not have known how to care for her own home and children.

When she graduated from high school, my mother made plans to go to college in California.

But Della contacted her―for the first time in ten years―and asked her to come live with her in Chicago. Della had recently remarried and promised my mother that she and her new husband would pay for her education there. When my mother arrived in Chicago, however, she found that Della wanted her only as a housekeeper and that she would get no financial help for college. Heartsick, she moved into a small apartment and found an office job paying thirteen dollars for a five-and-a-half-day week. Once I asked my mother why she went back to Chicago. “I’d hoped so hard that my mother would love me that I had to take the chance and find out,” she told me. “When she didn’t, I had nowhere else to go.”

My mother’s father died in 1947, so I never even met him. But I knew my grandmother, Della, as a weak and self-indulgent woman wrapped up in television soap operas and disengaged from reality. When I was about ten and Della was babysitting my brothers and me, I was hit in the eye by a chain-link gate while at the school playground. I ran home three blocks, crying and holding my head as blood streamed down my face. When Della saw me, she fainted. I had to ask our next-door neighbor for help in treating my wound. When Della revived, she complained that I had scared her and that she could have gotten hurt when she fell over. I had to wait for my mom to return, and she took me to the hospital to get stitches.

On the rare occasions when Della would let you into her narrow world, she could be enchanting. She loved to sing and play cards. When we visited her in Chicago she often took us to the local Kiddieland or movie theater. She died in 1960, an unhappy woman and a mystery, still. But she did bring my mother to Chicago, and that’s where Dorothy met Hugh Rodham.

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