How a lifetime of compromises and concessions brought one woman,Hillary Clinton, to the brink of history.
In early 1979, on a community access television program called In Focus, the wife of the new governor of Arkansas was peppered with question after question about all the ways in which she was an untraditional woman.
“The thought occurs to me that you really don’t fit the image that we have created for the governor’s wife in Arkansas,” the host, a self-described “newsman,” said to 32-year-old Hillary Rodham. “You’re not a native, you’ve been educated in liberal Eastern universities, you’re less than 40. You don’t have any children. You don’t use your husband’s name. You practice law. Does it concern you that maybe other people feel that you don’t fit the image that we have created for the governor’s wife in Arkansas?
She looked through her large, thick-lensed glasses and smiled.
“No,” she began, “because just as I said before … ”
She had made a choice. In 1974, she had moved to Arkansas to be with her boyfriend, Bill Clinton. It was a decision that would dictate so many others, big and small, for decades to come—and here, in this spartan studio, on this rinky-dink show, was one of them. How to respond to this man?
This issue of wifeliness was being put to the first female lawyer at the finest firm in Little Rock. Rodham had been 1 of just 27 women among the 200-plus students in her law school class at Yale. She was one of only three on the staff of 44 attorneys on the Watergate impeachment team. She could have responded to the interviewer by pointing out any of these things. It was the ‘70s: She could have responded with an impassioned lecture about feminism, or chauvinism, or women’s lib. But she didn’t. She responded with an equanimity that must have been a challenge to muster. “That doesn’t bother me, and I hope that doesn’t bother very many people,” she said.
Rodham by then was already hugely accomplished. But it also was true that she had arrived in the governor’s mansion not as a governor but as the governor’s wife. And when she arrived at the White House, 13 years later, it would be in the same way—as the unelected half of a couple, attracting more questions about her role, not only from traditionalists, who queried her all over again, but also from feminists—even some fellow Wellesley grads—who believed she should have gotten there under her own power. “We should not take a second seat to our life partners,” one alum would write, “and Hillary should not be applauded for having reached her position by doing so.
So here, now, is Hillary Clinton—168 years after the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in New York, 96 years after women in America gained the right to vote, 37 years after that community-access interview—poised to be elected president. The 45th president of the United States. And the first woman. If the polls are right, she is on the verge of an outcome that would be no less historic than the election of Barack Obama. If she wins on Tuesday, she will be, forever, the woman who shattered the highest, hardest glass ceiling.
If she wins on Tuesday, she will be, forever, the woman who shattered the highest, hardest glass ceiling.
A deep look at her record of her pursuit of power and interviews with people who have known her throughout her adult life suggest that the Hillary Clinton who sits at that cusp—the guarded 69-year-old woman Americans have watched so closely on this year’s campaign trail—is a personality forged through a career-long collision with the constantly shifting set of gender-based expectations people have put on her. To get here, she has done for so many years so many versions of what she did on In Focus: adjust, compromise and concede where necessary, never letting pure ideology interfere with the progress her ambitions required. She has done what she needed to for her husband to win elections, then for her to do the same, making repeated course corrections along the way.
The list is considerable. To help her husband in Arkansas, she started wearing contacts and makeup, changed her clothes and her hair, and (most meaningfully) dropped her maiden name—the one she had vowed as a girl to keep for life. After first emerging on the presidential campaign trail as a groundbreaking near-co-candidate, she realized she could help him win only by settling into a softer, more docile, more universally palatable role. Once in Washington, she stepped up zealously to reform the health care system, and under attack was forced to recede again, to a less partisan and more traditional posture as first lady. When her husband philandered in the Oval Office, humiliating her in the most painful way on the most public stage, she didn’t leave—she stayed. And ever since, every time she has run for office for herself, twice for the Senate, and now twice for the presidency, she generally has been reluctant to embrace an explicit, forceful feminist mantle—not so much a flouting of ideals as an assessment that it might be counterproductive to her ability to win.
There’s no question her inside-the-system strategy, the long life of triangulation and shifting, adjusting her goals and even her persona to maintain access, is what created the path that led to her presidency. It may also be her biggest challenge in governing the American people, who sense in her a person who is neither one thing nor the other. Some see an opportunist, others a pragmatist. She has been labeled too radical and not radical enough, beset by conservatives and liberals alike, sometimes simultaneously. But she has been, always, not a radical or an ideologue, as many of her most vociferous critics have claimed, but a realist, a centrist. And people who know her well, who have been mentors and friends, who have worked with her and for her, say this is precisely why she is where she is. It is the reason, they said in interviews this week, she stands at this threshold.
“She’s obviously had her eyes on this for a long time—she wasn’t just doing it for Bill—and she was preserving her options at every step of the way,” said Kris Olson, who went to Wellesley with her and also to Yale.
“Really,” said Ann Henry, a retired law professor in Fayetteville, Arkansas, who’s been friends with Clinton for more than 40 years, “she is an incrementalist—and it takes a long time to get things changed.”
“You have to make certain accommodations,” said Melanne Verveer, who was chief of staff to the first lady in the Clinton White House, went on to be the first U.S. ambassador for Global Women’s Issues and is currently the executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. “And it seems to me that if they don’t go to the essence of who you are and what you believe, then they are accommodations you make to achieve greater goals.”
If she wins next week, after all, she will be President Clinton, not President Rodham. But the title is what will matter.
When she wrote to NASA as a teenager asking about training for space flight, she got a letter back that said, “We are not accepting girls as astronauts.” When she ran for student body president in high school, she lost to a boy who told her she was “really stupid if I thought a girl could be elected president,” she wrote in a letter to her youth minister. When she was trying to decide whether to go to law school at Harvard or Yale, she went to a cocktail reception at Harvard, where a professor told her, “We don’t need any more women,” and so she went to Yale.
Her classmates in high school had elected her as the girl “most likely to succeed,” and Alan Schechter, her thesis adviser at Wellesley, had written to Yale that she had “the intellectual ability, personality, and character to make a remarkable contribution to American society”—and the women around her in her early to mid-20s saw in her intoxicating potential. Her fellow students in college believed she could be the first female president. Betsey Wright, a political consultant who worked with her in George McGovern’s presidential campaign in Texas in 1972, thought the same thing. When she told an older lawyer involved in the Watergate work that she wanted to be a trial attorney, he told her she couldn’t be because she wouldn’t “have a wife”—a wife, he explained, to buy the groceries and do the laundry and keep the home. She and some of the other women made a sign with a message and hung it next to the coffee machine. “The women in this office were not hired to make coffee,” it said. “Make it yourself … ”
So the women who knew Rodham at the time were surprised, and chagrined, when she married a man with such heady political plans of his own. “I was thrown at first when she moved to Arkansas to be with Bill,” Jan Piercy, one of her oldest friends, told me recently. Piercy called it “startling.” Wright, too, was dismayed. She told him, not her, according to Carl Bernstein’s biography, A Woman in Charge, that “he shouldn’t do that” because “he could find anybody he wanted to be a politician’s wife”—but women, women looking for standard-bearers, for women who could run for political office themselves, would “never find anybody like her.”
Rodham, though, assured them they shouldn’t worry. She wouldn’t kowtow to expectations of retrograde men. She wouldn’t be a “sacrificial” political wife. She would have her own career. And she would keep her own name.
People noticed. The New York Times did. “A graduate of Yale Law School who plays a mean jazz saxophone, Mr. Clinton,” the newspaper wrote in November 1978 in a brief portrait about the new governor of Arkansas, “is married to an ardent feminist, Hilary Rodham”—mischaracterizing her while also misspelling her name—“who will certainly be the first first lady of Arkansas to keep her maiden name.”
The Arkansas Democrat noticed too. “Despite the fact that she keeps her maiden name,” the newspaper in Little Rock wrote, also misspelling her first name with one l, “the wife of Arkansas’s new governor, Bill Clinton, claims she’s really an old-fashioned girl.” She believed in hard work and the golden rule, she explained, but she stressed: “I need to maintain my interests and my commitments. I need my own identity, too.”
It mattered back at Wellesley. The 1969 class notes in the college’s alumnae magazine in the spring of 1979 made mention of “Hillary Rodham, the first lady of Arkansas—and the nation’s only first lady to have retained her maiden name.”
“I really did not want to mix my professional activities with his political activities,” she explained to the host on In Focus. “I didn’t want anyone ever to think that I was either taking advantage of his position or in some way riding on it, and there aren’t very many ways to persuade people of that.”
Remaining Hillary Rodham, she figured, was one way to do that. But the more trenchant point, to herself and to others, she would write later in her memoir, was clear: “I was still me.”
Her politically talented husband had lost the governorship in 1980 after a single two-year term—in part because of her, because many people in Arkansas had never been placated by her justifications. She had some decisions to make.
Some of them were cosmetic. She defrizzed and lightened her hair and got rid of her glasses. She hired a fashion consultant. Some of her friends were bothered by the change in her look. “She was going to have to fit into this Barbie Doll model,” said Nancy Wanderer from Wellesley. Others dismissed it as mostly cosmetic.
But there was a bigger compromise in front of her, one that was politically a much bigger deal. “He lost because she hadn’t changed her name,” Ann Henry told me.
“It cost them dearly,” Schechter, her Wellesley thesis adviser, told me last week. “So she learned: You better go along to get along.”
“Rodham, Rodham, Rodham,” said Verveer, describing the crux of the attacks from her husband’s opponents—already in 1978, when he had won, and again in 1980, when he had not. “As though she were a monster from another world.”
Rodham, Rodham, Rodham,” said Verveer, describing the crux of the attacks from her husband’s opponents. “As though she were a monster from another world.”
How much was her identity worth if it meant costing him his political future? Her calculation was concise, as she would phrase it in the memoir: “I decided it was more important for Bill to be Governor than for me to keep my maiden name.” She made her announcement at the same news conference her husband announced he would be running to win back the office.
It worked. Bill Clinton was elected governor again in 1982, and 1984, and 1986, and 1988, and 1990. Bill and Hillary Clinton were a power couple with a rising national profile: a young and successful governor, and his law-partner wife. When he ran for president in 1992, his wife burst forth as a new kind of woman on the national scene. “Not your normal first lady type, right?” said Patti Solis Doyle, a staffer of hers from the campaign. “She was strong. She was opinionated. She was definitely an equal partner.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton triggered all sorts of complicated emotions from the public in the 1992 60 Minutes interview in which she sat next to her husband and defended him in the face of flaring allegations of infidelity. She managed to offend a raft of women by saying snippily that she hadn’t stayed home to bake “cookies” and have “teas.” The campaign began to understand that she was seen as an asset by some, but that there was another, not insignificant group that viewed her as a liability.
“If the wife comes through as being too strong and too intelligent,” former President Richard Nixon told the New York Times, “it makes the husband look like a wimp.”
“While voters genuinely admire Hillary Clinton’s intelligence and tenacity,” Clinton pollsters Stan Greenberg and Celinda Lake wrote in a memo that spring, “they are uncomfortable with these traits in a woman.”
While voters genuinely admire Hillary Clinton’s intelligence and tenacity,” Clinton pollsters Stan Greenberg and Celinda Lake wrote in a memo that spring, “they are uncomfortable with these traits in a woman.”
That summer, the Republicans knew they had a target—not in the president, but in his wife. As the party coalesced around a new euphemism, “family values,” she was pilloried at the Republican National Convention as a “radical,” an anti-family “dowdy feminazi.” One explanation for the attacks? “She would have been … the first professional, independent, working first lady,” Jody Franklin, her chief of staff during that campaign, said in a recent interview. “The country couldn’t wrap its brain around that.”
To anyone who knew her, there was a powerful irony: much of her work as a lawyer, and also her work on the side as the first lady of Arkansas, had centered around the welfare of children and families. And the image of her as some bra-burning feminist couldn’t have been more off-base. Even in college, she had been a moderate at a radical time, a young woman who usually avoided demonstrations in favor of conversations with professors and deans.
As in Arkansas, she had pushed forward—only to have to pull back. She adjusted, and did what had to be done, clapping for her husband, waving to the growing crowds, submitting a chocolate chip cookie recipe to Family Circle magazine. “She was put in a box for the rest of the campaign,” Franklin said.
She hoped it would be different in the White House. “What I hope,” she said, the week before the election, to the author Donnie Radcliffe, “is that each woman, and someday men in that position, will be free to be who they are.”
She was not free to be who she was.
It might have been tempting, at least for a moment, for her or for anybody else, to think that the choices she had made to get there, the adjustments and accommodations, the compromises and concessions, finally had paid off. Having weathered the pitfalls of the campaign, she now was moving from Arkansas to the White House. She wanted to be unburdened and unleashed. She wanted to be called Hillary Rodham Clinton, not just Hillary Clinton. She wanted to have an office in the West Wing, the hub of the power, not just the East Wing, the headquarters for the ceremonial duties expected of the president’s spouse. She, on the other hand, wanted to have an active policy-making role in her husband’s administration. She got all those things.
But while polling showed people around the country had a generally “favorable” opinion of her—respondents to the Los Angeles Times in January 1993 pegged that figure at a relatively robust 58 percent—the numbers also suggested they remained deeply uncomfortable with the notion that she would be intimately involved with the government’s most substantive work.
If the move to Washington and the White House was a window of opportunity, it also brought a new, startling kind of clarity to the limits of what she had achieved. “You’re first lady, you’re there solely by the virtue of your marriage to your husband,” Verveer, her White House chief of staff, said in an interview this week. “That is the criteria.” Americans had voted for Bill for president, not his wife. Nearly 70 percent said she should stay away from Cabinet meetings. The U.S. News & World Report offered a blunt and yet undeniable takeaway: “Most Americans object to Mrs. Clinton’s plans to carve out an unprecedented role for herself.”
The new first lady was caught off guard by the fact that she quickly had to pick decorations and cards for the following Christmas. She was far less interested in this part of her new position. “Let me say,” Lisa Caputo, her press secretary at the time, told me this week, “that the traditional aspects initially, initially, perhaps, were not at the top of the priority list—because she was given a job to be the health care czar. And she rolled up her sleeves and went to work.”
“I want to free women to live according to their own needs and desires,” Clinton said in a speech at Scripps College in California early in her time as first lady. “I want all women to be given the respect they deserve to have for the choices they may make.”
But that’s not how it worked. She was criticized by conservatives and other opponents of government health care for being too independent. Almost simultaneously, though, she was criticized by others—even by women from Wellesley—for not being independent enough.
“I want to free women to live according to their own needs and desires,” Clinton said in a speech early in her time as first lady. “I want all women to be given the respect they deserve to have for the choices they may make.”
But that’s not how it worked.
“You look gorgeous, but I worry about the kind of message your highly publicized ‘make-over’ may send to young women,” one of her classmates wrote to her in Wellesley’s alumnae magazine in 1993. “Try to maintain your identity as an independent woman.”
In a letter to the editor in the magazine in 1994, a 1968 graduate and a doctor from Madison, Connecticut, denigrated Clinton as a terrible role model for aspiring young women.
“Hillary’s entire career has been a direct result of the fact that she married Bill,” she said. “Her role in the development and politicization of the president’s proposal for the revision of the health care system of the United States is hers not because of any training, experience, or expertise in the field. She holds this position because she is married to the president.”
She went on: “My major concern is that young Wellesley women not perceive Hillary as a role model for pursuit of independent careers. If she had political or societal aspirations, which I suspect she did, why did she not have the faith in herself and her Wellesley background to follow them? Why did she make the apparently conscious decision that she could only get where she wanted to by riding on her husband’s coattails?”
A 1985 graduate who was a lawyer in Washington concurred, mailing in a similar censure—comparing Clinton, unfavorably, to Madeleine Albright, another Wellesley graduate who then was the United States ambassador to the United Nations and three years away from becoming the first female secretary of state. “Madeleine Korbel Albright,” the woman wrote, “deserves respect because she has built her expertise over several years of being good at what she does. The first lady is good at what she does, too—that is, she is good at being a politician’s wife … ”
In fact, in major national health care reform, Bill Clinton couldn’t have given his wife a more daunting, politically demanding task. And when it faltered, after Republicans had made her a singular subject of their opposition and ire—attacking it as “Hillarycare”—she retreated. She was blamed for the results of the midterm elections of 1994, which were disastrous for Democrats. And she again made the accommodations that were required. She was no longer involved in any efforts to write significant legislation. She all but disappeared from the West Wing. It’s what she had to do, she was told, by the public and by pollsters—just like in Arkansas in 1982—to give her husband a chance at reelection.
She didn’t disappear, and she didn’t turn silent. She used the uncommon platform her position afforded to reach an audience more receptive to her message. Women. Especially overseas.
She went in the spring of 1995 on a tour of South Asia, where she gave speeches on women’s rights. “Women,” she said in India, “have to be responsible for our own lives and our own futures … ”
That fall, she accepted an invitation to go to China, to attend the fourth United Nations’ World Conference on Women. “I want to push the envelope as far as I can when it comes to women’s rights and human rights,” she told her speechwriter, Lissa Muscatine, Muscatine told biographer Cynthia Levinson.
It was time, she said, to speak up—and she did, in a bold new way. Clinton, not typically known for soaring oratory, delivered in Beijing one of the most resonant lines of any of her many speeches.
“Human rights are women’s rights,” she said, “and women’s rights are human rights.”
It vaulted her once and for all onto an international stage.
Back home, though, she remained angry and frustrated. About the failure of health care. About her diminished participation in that portion of the administration.
“She did substantive work as first lady,” Caputo said, “but she did it within a box with a label of ‘first lady’ attached to it.”
It was “not easy,” Verveer said. “And that’s an understatement.”
On Thanksgiving Day in 1996, a few weeks after her husband’s reelection, she called her best friend Diane Blair, according to Blair’s notes, which are in the archives of the University of Arkansas. She vented. She had returned recently from another trip, to Thailand and Australia, where she had given speeches at schools for girls. “She knows this is important to do, but still frustrated,” Blair wrote in her notes. Blair told Clinton, she said, it was difficult “being a pioneer in an anachronistic role.”
“She has come to the conclusion,” Blair wrote, “that no matter what she does, she is going to piss off some people, so will just continue to be herself and let everyone else make whatever adjustments they have to.”
“She has come to the conclusion,” Blair wrote, “that no matter what she does, she is going to piss off some people, so will just continue to be herself and let everyone else make whatever adjustments they have to.”
Clinton, though, was the one who had made the adjustments. And where had it gotten her? “I know how to compromise,” she told Blair. “I have compromised. I gave up my name, got contact lenses … ”
“Now, for the first time,” Clinton said in an interview with Talk magazine, heading into her campaign in New York in 2000 for a seat in the Senate, “I am making my own decisions. I can feel the difference. It is a great relief.”
“It was freeing,” Verveer told me.
Her comments to Talk were candid, and they were optimistic, too—overly so. It was not nearly so simple.
It was complicated because of what her husband had done to her, because of what he had done with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office, and because she had chosen to stay. She shared her reasons with Talk, pointing to Bill’s difficult childhood without a father and calling him “a very, very good man” and his adultery “a sin of weakness,” not “malice.”
And it was complicated because by then her innately cautious disposition had only been accentuated and intensified by the ways in which she had gotten to this new stage—the adjustments and the accommodations, the compromises and the concessions, and the incredible national ordeal she had faced. In the most personally sordid White House drama in living memory, her husband had committed a humiliating act of adultery, and had been impeached for lying about it. She was living with the residue of the choices she made and the criticisms that followed.
“More than a first lady,” went one of her slogans in an early ad in that campaign, but what was clear quickly after her eight years as a White House spouse is that her obstacles hadn’t vanished. In fact, there were fresh ones now—and they were a byproduct of the older obstacles and the choices she had made to overcome them.
Women had mixed feelings. Older women. Suburban women. Especially women just like her. White. Professional. Baby Boomers. Internal polling, according to Michael Tomasky’s book about the Senate race, Hillary’s Turn, painted a complicated picture. They considered her history and had concluded that she was “smart” but “cold,” “savvy” but “pushy,” “controlling” and “cunning” and “back stabbing.” “Independent” and “self-serving.”
“You get the sense that she doesn’t think like a woman,” one woman told the pollsters. “She thinks like a man.” And they held against her her reactions to his infidelity. “I’m upset at her for not taking a stand,” one woman said. Once again, she was taking fire for not being traditional enough—too manly in her thinking—and for being too traditional, by heeding a wedding vow.
Once again, she was taking fire for not being traditional enough—too manly in her thinking—and for being too traditional, by heeding a wedding vow.
So it was surprising when she won in a landslide, 55 percent to 43 percent—and by 20 percent with women—and the race banked that way, most analysts agreed, because of two things that happened at the first debate. Her first debate ever. The moderator, Tim Russert, asked her aggressively about Lewinsky, and her opponent, Rick Lazio, bolstered a point he was trying to make by walking across the stage, toward her, closer and closer and into her personal space. Both moments, it turned out, made her seem vulnerable, and in a way that changed minds of women who watched.
The ambivalence ebbed and flowed over the years since but never totally went away. “It seems wildly tragic that we know she could have been president if she had just not even married him,” one woman, an unidentified Wellesley grad, told Carl Bernstein for his biography, A Woman in Charge, which came out in 2007—the year Clinton announced she was running for president. It was an echo, though more forgiving, of the letters in the alumnae magazine from 1994. “In fact,” this woman said, “it’s hard to think of a sadder example of a person who couldn’t quite give up the old ideas. Her way of moving toward electoral politics was to marry someone who was going to run.”
Now, though, she had run for herself. But the lesson of vulnerability from 2000 hadn’t stuck. In advance of her first presidential campaign, longtime Clinton pollster Mark Penn cautioned her against running basically as too much of a woman, a recommendation she was plenty ready to follow. She had learned by this point that calling attention to oneself as a woman had a way of creating problems.
“Most voters in essence see the president as the ‘father’ of the country,” Penn wrote in his memo on the subject. “They do not want someone who would be the first mama … ”
It informed one of her stock phrases in her stump speeches: “I am not running because I’m a woman.”
Throughout 2007, Anne Kornblut wrote in her book Notes from the Cracked Ceiling, Clinton talked about gender “in the most inoffensive conceivable way.”
When she gave a speech at Wellesley that year in November, she couldn’t avoid the topic given the location. The campaign passed out T-shirts to students that announced, “I can be president, too.” “In so many ways, this all-women’s college prepared me to compete in the all boys’ club of presidential politics,” Clinton said. “We need to shatter that highest glass ceiling. We can make history.” It came off as staged, stilted and half-hearted.
Only in the following February, after Obama had won the Iowa caucus, after she had ceded to him the territory of a historic candidacy, after Clinton had run as stubbornly strong and stern, did she crack, just a little. She hadn’t lost to Obama only in Iowa—she had come in third, losing to John Edwards, too. She was trailing in polls. And a woman at a cafe in New Hampshire asked her a question. “How do you do it?” Marianne Pernold Young, 64 at the time, asked Clinton. The candidate paused. “It’s not easy,” she said, as her voice wavered and her eyes began to get teary. It was a rare sign of vulnerability—and, as had been the case at the debate in New York, she was rewarded. She won the primary the next day. Women had supported her in a big way. Obama’s win in Iowa had been hailed as historic, even though he was not the first black man to have won a presidential primary—that was Jessie Jackson, in 1988—and here Clinton’s win in New Hampshire was covered as a resuscitation of her horse-race hopes. It was the first time a woman had won a major presidential primary, in any state in this country, ever.
The news media didn’t dwell on that. But neither did she, until the very end.
Her concession speech was different than all of her speeches on the stump. “On a personal note,” she said in June 2008 at the National Building Museum in Washington, “when I was asked what it means to be a woman running for president, I always gave the same answer, that I was proud to be running as a woman, but I was running because I thought I’d be the best president.
“But,” she said.
The crowd cheered.
“But,” she said again.
This was new. The but was new.
“I am a woman,” Clinton said, “and, like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious. And I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us. I ran as a daughter who benefited from opportunities my mother never dreamed of. I ran as a mother who worries about my daughter’s future … ”
“As we gather here today in this historic, magnificent building, the 50th woman to leave this Earth is orbiting overhead,” she said, an unconscious nod perhaps to her long-ago letter to NASA. “If we can blast 50 women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House.”
And still more cheers.
“Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it,” she said, referring to the number of votes she amassed in the primaries, “and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope, and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.”
It hasn’t been, of course. “I’m With Her,” reads one of her slogans, but throughout this campaign, on stickers, shirts, signs and hats, she has been called a bitch and a witch and worse. Even back toward the end of the primary season, as she and Donald Trump began to zero in on each other, he was the one to call particular attention to the fact that she is female. “The only thing she’s got is the woman card,” he said in late April after she pledged that half her Cabinet would be women. To which she responded: “Well, if fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.” Her campaign started selling “Woman Cards.” In the general election, which has turned into a referendum on the treatment of women, Clinton has picked her spots to condemn Trump’s vulgar sexist comments and alleged harassment and assault. At times, though, she has seemed hesitant, still, to speak out about it too much or too loud. It’s “not how she’s running,” Verveer said. “She’s running based on her achievements and who she is—and she happens to be a woman.” Over these past few anxious, angry, vile months, as she’s gotten closer and closer to the Oval Office, Clinton often has relied on this front on highly effective surrogates. The most forceful, most memorable repudiations of her opponent’s lengthy record of crude misogyny have come from Elizabeth Warren and Michelle Obama.
“Take a good look at her,” Nancy Wanderer told her mother about her friend after Hillary Rodham finished her speech at commencement at Wellesley in May 1969, “because she will probably be president of the United States someday.”
Never, though, would Wanderer have predicted her path to this point. Not Wanderer or any of her contemporaries or classmates who thought this was a possible destination for her almost half a century back.
“No,” friend Ann Sentilles said.
“Not at all,” said Kris Olson. “I never would have thought she would’ve gone down to Arkansas.”
Or taken the name of a husband who would go on to become president first.
In conversations, though, with many of them over the past couple weeks, they all agreed: This, in the end, is probably how it had to be. A woman who operated purely as a feminist would have condemned herself to fighting a permanently outside fight. And a woman who never tested the limits of the role she agreed to play—tested it over and over—wouldn’t have built the thick skin and the savvy needed to keep going.
“Those experiences and changes she made to forge a path are so reflective of women of her generation,” said Sally McMillen, a 1966 Wellesley grad who recently retired as a professor of history, and women’s history, at Davidson College in North Carolina. “I have always maintained that our generation was the transition generation for women, pulled by traditions but grabbing for new opportunities as we could—constant compromises and even reinventing ourselves as needed.”
“I think if she hadn’t made some of those compromises along the way, she probably wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has,” said Suzanne Salomon, a classmate who lived in the same dorm on the same hall. “If she hadn’t done some compromising along the way, she wouldn’t be where she is today.”
Practical, pragmatic, ambitious women do what they have to do.”
“It would be hard to find a woman our age who hasn’t done these things to achieve what she’s wanted to achieve,” Sentilles said. “Practical, pragmatic, ambitious women do what they have to do.”
Those who have worked alongside Clinton from Arkansas to Washington and beyond feel the same way.
“A lot of this is timing,” said Caputo, her old White House press secretary. “She’s been a transitional figure in our history. And I think that causes one to have to do a difficult navigation with each twist and turn because you’re paving new ground.”
“You learn to adopt a more practical approach,” Verveer said, “to get done what you want to get done.”
Wanderer, like so many of the women who have known her the longest, has watched her throughout.
“She made her choices, just as we all do,” she said. “No woman’s career is straight.”
She told me she followed along with some annoyance and exasperation as her college classmate made her way through the late ‘70s and the ‘80s and ‘90s, wishing that Clinton hadn’t had to change her look and her name. But she came to understand, she said. “We’ve all tried to figure these things out,” she explained. “How much do we have to change to be acceptable? Can we be fully ourselves?” Over the past decade and a half, she said, ever since Clinton stopped being first lady and started running for the Senate, even though she has remained careful, cautious and even wary, and cresting with this campaign, now closing in on Election Day, Wanderer has observed the self-possessed student she once knew re-emerge. “The old Hillary Rodham,” she said. And last month, Wanderer, who lives in Maine, drove to New Hampshire for a rally. Her friend was introduced to the crowd. They said Clinton. She saw, underneath it all, Rodham.
Source: What It Took