Few political candidates in the history of presidential politics have been in the national spotlight for as long as Democratic Party nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton. Launched to national fame nearly 25 years ago as the wife of presidential candidate William Jefferson Clinton, and later, the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton has established a formidable political résumé. Her career highlights include:
- First female partner at the Rose Law Firm – 1977
- First Lady of Arkansas – 1979-1981 and 1983-1992
- First Lady of the United States – 1993 to 2001
- Elected twice as U.S. Senator, NY – 2000 and 2006
- Secretary of State, Obama Administration – 2009 to 2013
When a presidential candidate has an extensive body of experience, it’s easy to think about his or her education as something in the distant past. In this particular election, both major party candidates were born just after the Second World War and completed their educations over four decades ago.
But despite the time lapse, we believe education plays a significant role in a candidate’s qualifications to hold office. During a person’s formative years, teachers, schools, and the experiences they bring help shape the thoughts and ideologies of students with regard to science, religion, political leanings, socioeconomics, and worldview. Indeed, in her book, “Living History,” Secretary Clinton cites a story about a ninth grade teacher encouraging her to read a book by conservative Barry Goldwater, and credits this as a factor in her identifying as a Republican in her teen years — a position she reversed in college. An examination of Hillary Clinton’s education paints a unique picture of the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major political party.
Secretary Clinton’s Primary Education (1953-1965)
Secretary Clinton was born in Chicago on October 26, 1947 as Hillary Diane Rodham. She would be the eldest of three children born to Hugh Ellsworth Rodham and Dorothy Emma Howell Rodham — a middle-class Methodist couple. When Hillary was three, the family relocated to the Park Ridge suburb of Chicago where she lived until she graduated from high school.
Hillary Rodham’s primary education was exclusively in Park Ridge area public schools:
- Eugene Field Elementary School, Park Ridge – 1953-1957
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Middle School, Park Ridge – 1957-1961
- Maine Township High School East, Park Ridge – 1961-1964
- Maine Township High School South, Park Ridge – 1964-1965
As a young girl, Hillary was a Brownie and later a Girl Scout. Little information is available about her elementary or middle school grades, but in high school, she was inducted into the National Honors Society and graduated in the top 5% of her 1965 class. Rodham was active in high school politics, belonging to the Maine Township High student council. A photo of her yearbook entry lists the following extracurricular activities and associations:
- Student Council
- Class Council
- Student Newspaper
- Vice-President of the National Honors Society
- Pep Club
- Science Award
- Speech Activities and Debate
- Cultural Values Committee
- Organizations Committee
- Variety show
Additionally, she was a member of the Brotherhood Society, which is comprised of three male and three female students who promote friendliness, goodwill and service. On weekends and during vacations, she earned extra money by babysitting.
Rodham had conservative leanings during her high school years. She even assumed a leadership role for the Republican side in the school’s mock elections.
“I was also an active Young Republican and, later a Goldwater girl right down to my cowgirl outfit and straw cowboy hat emblazoned with the slogan ‘AuH2O,’” Clinton wrote in “Living History.”
Goldwater was opposed to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so it’s important to point out that Clinton was only 16 at the time of the 1964 election, and therefore, ineligible to vote. In college, she worked to enforce the civil rights of minorities.
The Undergraduate Years at Wellesley College (1965-1969)
Founded in 1870 as a private women’s college, Wellesley is a Liberal Arts institution located 12 miles outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Wellesley received a #4 ranking among National Liberal Arts Colleges and a #20 in Best Undergraduate Teaching from U.S. News and World Report. It was one of the original Seven Sister Colleges catering exclusively to women in the Northeast and remains an all-female institution to this day.
Hillary Rodham enrolled at the prestigious women’s college in 1965, marking the first time she attended a private school. During her first year, she still identified with the Republican party and was elected President of the Wellesley Young Republicans Club.
It was during her years at Wellesley that Hillary Rodham experienced a political shift, if not to the left, at least to the center. Although Wellesley only had six African-American students while Rodham was in attendance, it was the future Secretary of State’s first exposure to people of color in a mostly desegregated environment. In “Living History,” Clinton wrote, “I had not had a black friend, neighbor or classmate until I went to college. Karen Williamson, a lively, independent-minded student, became one of my first friends there.” Williamson later recalled that Rodham was the only white friend who called her to express sympathy after the Martin Luther King assassination.
By 1968, Hillary Rodham supported the Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war platform, but still worked as an intern for Republican House Leader Gerald Ford. As her education at Wellesley and later Yale continued, Rodham would solidify her position as a Democrat. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s grade point average from Wellesley isn’t available, but she graduated with honors. That combined with her admission to Yale Law school would indicate that her performance at Wellesley College was above average.
Rodham was the 1969 senior class president, and at age 21, Hillary D. Rodham was the first student commencement speaker in the history of Wellesley College. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.
Yale Law School (1969-1973)
In a speech during the 1992 election campaign of her husband, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton told an audience of Yale students, “Much of what I believe, and much of what I have worked for at stake in this election, is directly related to my time at the law school.” For Hillary Rodham, attending the prestigious Yale Law School in New Haven, CT represents a momentous period in the young woman’s life. In addition to meeting Bill Clinton, this is the time when Hillary Rodham established herself as a Democrat, became an activist and developed an interest in children’s rights, education and helping impoverished families.
Yale Law School is currently listed as the number one law school in the country. Founded before the American Revolution in 1701, four of the last seven U.S. presidents have attended Yale, including former President Clinton. Yale University is one of the eight Ivy League schools.
While Hillary Clinton’s Yale GPA and specific class ranking aren’t available, Rodham’s (she didn’t marry Bill Clinton until after graduation) time at the Ivy League law school yielded some significant highlights:
- In her second semester at Yale, Rodham organized and led a law student meeting to discuss current political issues of the time. Students in attendance weren’t able to recall the topic of discussion, but noted it was unusual for a first-year law student to arrange and mediate an event of this nature with senior law students.
- During her second year, Rodham worked at the Yale Child Study Center assisting in child brain development research.
- Rodham worked on Democratic Senator Walter Mondale’s Subcommittee on Migrant Labor.
- Rodham became an editor on the Yale Review of Law and Social Action, which was a rival of the mainstream Yale Law Review. The Yale Review of Law and Social Action took a controversial stance in favor of Black Panther activists, several of whom were on trial in New Haven for the murder of a fellow member.
- After graduating with honors in 1973, Hillary Rodham completed one year of post graduate work on children and medicine.
Law school was also the time when Hillary Rodham met Bill Clinton. Rodham was a second-year student when Clinton enrolled at Yale Law School in 1970. After dating for a short period, Hillary moved from a modest apartment in New Haven to a larger place with Bill. But it wasn’t until October 1975, after both had graduated from law school, that they were married in Fayetteville, AR. She was 29.
Civil Rights Activism During Law School
In addition to her academic pursuits at Yale Law School, Rodham took an active interest in children and child rights. After reading an article by Time Magazine contributor and civil rights attorney Marian Wright Edelman, she attended a speech that Edelman gave at the law school on the subject. Hillary approached the author and asked to work with the civil rights activist at the Mrs. Edelman’s Washington Research Project — still in existence as the Children’s Defense Fund — over the summer. Edelman accepted the proposal, and after obtaining grant money, Rodham began working with the organization.
Among the more interesting assignments Rodham had with Edelman was assuming an undercover role to expose racial discrimination in a Dothan, Alabama private school. Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education in 1969 was meant to hurry the delayed responses of southern schools to desegregate after the better known Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. In the South, schools were desegregating at a slow pace, and in some areas, not at all. Meeting a demand from white parents who didn’t want their children attending schools with black students, private “white only” schools, like the one Rodham was sent to investigate in Dothan, began to appear. Because of the ruling, these schools weren’t eligible for tax exempt status. Portraying herself as a young mother with concerns about the school’s curriculum and student makeup, Rodham was assured by the faculty at the Dothan school that blacks wouldn’t be enrolled.
In addition to the undercover work, Rodham worked in Washington to find documentation proving that the segregated schools were still receiving tax exemptions despite the Supreme Court ruling. The work of Rodham and others like her contributed to the publication of a 1972 report entitled “It’s Not Over in the South: School Desegregation in 43 Southern Cities 18 Years After Brown,” by the Mrs. Edelman’s Research Project. Among the report’s findings was data showing that the number of students attending private schools in the South had grown by more than twenty-fold between 1966 and 1972, indicating a mass migration to the discriminatory institutions.
In addition to its historic significance, the themes of the research project reverberate on the Clinton Campaign page, where the candidate promises to end discriminatory practices that “disproportionately affect African American students and those with the greatest economic, social, and academic needs.”
Hillary Clinton as a Professor at the University of Arkansas
While it’s not unusual for a presidential candidate to have an extensive educational background, a fewer number of them have experience teaching in schools and universities. As someone who had developed a favorable reputation and a number of contacts while doing social and political work during law school, Hillary Clinton had job opportunities that would have paid far better than the salary of a state university law professor. But by 1975, Bill Clinton was already pursuing a political career in his home state of Arkansas and Hillary Rodham decided to join him. Hillary moved in with Clinton in Fayetteville and began teaching law at the University of Arkansas. Although Hillary Clinton’s tenure as a law professor was brief, we believe it to be noteworthy in a discussion of her educational background.
The Education Platform of Hillary Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton has one of the more comprehensive education plans of any candidate running in the 2016 elections, and of the remaining candidates — Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton —the Hillary for America website is the only one that provides specific details as to what she proposes to do should she be elected. To summarize, Hillary Clinton supports:
- Free community college for all students
- Free tuition at in-state colleges for students with family incomes below $85,000
- Refinancing student loans under more favorable terms to bring down payments
- Capping monthly payments on student loans at 10% of a student’s income
- Debt forgiveness of student loans after 20 years
- $17,500 in loan forgiveness for entrepreneurs founding businesses in distressed communities
- A three-year payment free period for entrepreneurs with student loans
- Strengthening the existing Common Core Standards Initiative
Clinton hasn’t discussed school vouchers in any substantive way in her election campaign. In the past, however, she has been against school vouchers, believing that they divert funds from the public school system. At one time, Hillary Clinton supported charter schools as a way of alleviating overcrowded classrooms in the public school system, but late last year, she criticized charter schools for not accepting or retaining low-performing students.
A Summary of Secretary Clinton’s Education
Whether it’s due to the fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton was involved in so many political activities during her college years or because of the historic meeting between her and a future president, there’s a much greater body of information about Clinton’s college education than exists with most political candidates. Numerous accounts and testimonies have emerged about the former First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State’s actions on and off campus during the time of her education.
Not all voters place a high level of importance on a candidate’s education background—or even his or her educational policies. But for those who do factor academic achievements and dedication toward the improvement of the quality of education in the United States, Hillary Clinton’s history provides substantial data to make an informed decision.