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Hillary Clinton's Path to Becoming the First Female Presidential Candidate in U.S. History


Hillary Clinton's Path to Becoming the First Female Presidential Candidate in U.S. History Hillary Clinton, from her childhood in suburban Illinois, to her campaign for the White House. (Handouts)

The life of Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton is full of firsts — first student speaker at Wellesley College, first lady of Arkansas, first lady of America and the first woman elected from New York to the U.S. Senate.

If voters go her way on Tuesday, she will be the first woman elected president of the United States. Her journey has been long, and often rough.

She was born on October 26, 1947 in Chicago to Hugh and Dorothy Rodham. Her father ran a successful small business, which she is wont to mention on the campaign trail, making draperies. Her mother was a homemaker.

Hillary Rodham as a toddler in suburban Chicago. (Clinton campaign)

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The eldest of three children, she was a Girl Scout and an avid follower of space exploration. She often recounts how she wrote to NASA in the early 60s asking to become an astronaut, only to be told girls were not allowed in space.

Hillary Rodham as a schoolgirl. (Clinton campaign)

After graduating from high school in suburban Illinois, she enrolled at Wellesley College, majoring in political science. She was president of the campus Young Republicans, following the lead of her conservative parents.

But the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War pushed her political leanings to the left, and as a junior at Wellesley, she became a supporter of anti-war Democratic presidential nominee Eugene McCarthy.

After the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., she organized a two-day student strike and advocated the recruiting of more black students and faculty. At her 1969 commencement, she became the first student — male or female — to speak at the college’s graduation.

At Yale Law School, she took on cases of child abuse and volunteered to give legal advice to the needy.

It was also there that she met fellow student Bill Clinton in 1971. He followed her to Northern California, where she had an internship at an Oakland law firm. When they returned to Yale, they moved in together.

After graduation, she became a staff attorney for the Children’s Defense Fund in Massachusetts. In 1974, she was on the impeachment inquiry staff in Washington, D.C., advising the House during the Watergate scandal.

She was considered an up-and-coming political star, so it stunned her friends when she announced she was moving to Arkansas, where Bill was running for seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and teaching law.

Hillary Rodham married Bill Clinton in 1975, after turning him down three times.  (Clinton campaign)

She, too, took up teaching, becoming the second of only two female law professors at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Her interest in children’s law and family policy deepened, working pro bono on juvenile advocacy cases while practicing law at Arkansas’ highly respected Rose Law Firm.

In 1978, she became the first lady of Arkansas when Clinton won the governor’s race. It was a title she would hold for 12 years.

In February 1980, Clinton gave birth to the couple's only child, Chelsea Victoria Clinton.

In 1992, after a grueling race for the presidency that including lurid accusations about her husband’s sex life, Hillary Clinton became first lady of America.

She was a constant sounding board for her husband, leading to derisive names such as “Billary” for the White House couple. Her husband named her chair of a national health care reform task force.

But her health care plan seemed doomed from the start and failed to get enough votes in the Democrat-controlled House or Senate.

A series of scandals followed that proved embarrassing to both Clintons.

Though the couple was ultimately cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, the Whitewater controversy dragged on for four years, questioning whether the Clintons broke any laws in connection with their failed investment in a development company.

But most embarrassing of all was the Monica Lewinsky sex saga — a sordid tale involving a cigar, a stained dress, secretly recorded phone calls between the president and Lewinsky and an enraged first lady.

She ultimately stayed with her husband, and her public approval ratings soared. After the Clintons moved out of the White House, she began her own political career.

She became the only first lady to run for elected office and entered the U.S. Senate in 2001, where she gained a reputation for being a consensus builder and a regular member of the Senate Prayer Breakfast.

She served two terms before setting her sights on the White House.

In a close and contentious campaign, Hillary Clinton battled Senate colleague Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. She bowed out in June 2008, when it became apparent Obama had secured enough votes to win.

“Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time," she told her supporters. “Thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it."

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The new president extended an olive branch to Clinton, asking her to serve as his secretary of state.

Hillary Clinton being sworn in as secretary of state in 2009.  (State Department)

As she is fond of saying in her current campaign for president, she traveled to 112 countries as the country’s most powerful diplomat and led the State Department as the Arab Spring movement rolled across the Middle East and northern Africa.

She left the post in 2013, and the next year became a grandmother to Charlotte Clinton Mezvinksy. Aidan Clinton Mezvinsky followed in June 2016.

In 2015, she also endured 11 hours of blistering questioning in 2015 before the House Select Committee on the ISIS attack on American compounds in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four U.S. citizens, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens.

Her strong performance before the committee delighted some liberal pundits who proclaimed she should have been sworn in as president right there and then.

On April 12, 2015, she announced her campaign for president. Two months later, Donald J. Trump entered the race.

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