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Bernstein on Hillary Clinton’s ambition

In his new biography, “A Woman in Charge,” Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate scandal with fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, examines her political career.
/ Source: TODAY

Who is Hillary Rodham Clinton? In his new biography, “A Woman in Charge,” Carl Bernstein, who shared a Pulitzer Prize with Bob Woodward for their coverage of Watergate for The Washington Post, tries to answer that question. He follows her life from her childhood in the Midwest to her college days at Wellesley to Yale Law School, where she meets Bill Clinton, to Arkansas to the White House and to New York as a U.S. Senator. With Hillary Clinton running for president, Bernstein gives readers another perspective on her personal and public life. In Chapter One, he writes about her family. Here’s an excerpt:

Chapter One
I adored [my father] when I was a little girl. I would eagerly watch for him from a window and run down the street to meet him on his way home after work. With his encouragement and coaching, I played baseball, football and basketball. I tried to bring home good grades to win his approval.
— “Living History”Hillary Rodham’s childhood was not the suburban idyll suggested by the shaded front porch and gently sloping lawn of what was once the family home at 235 Wisner Street in Park Ridge, Illinois. In this leafy environment of postwar promise and prosperity, the Rodhams were distinctly a family of odd ducks, isolated from their neighbors by the difficult character of her father, Hugh Rodham, a sour, unfulfilled man whose children suffered his relentless, demeaning sarcasm and misanthropic inclination, endured his embarrassing parsimony, and silently accepted his humiliation and verbal abuse of their mother.Yet as harsh, provocative, and abusive as Rodham was, he and his wife, the former Dorothy Howell, imparted to their children a pervasive sense of family and love for one another that in Hillary’s case is of singular importance. When Bill Clinton and Hillary honeymooned in Acapulco in 1975, her parents and her two brothers, Hughie (Hugh Jr.) and Tony, stayed in the same hotel as the bride and groom.Dorothy and Hugh Rodham, despite the debilitating pathology and undertow of tension in their marriage (discerned readily by visitors to their home), were assertive parents who, at mid-century, intended to convey to their children an inheritance secured by old-fashioned values and verities. They believed (and preached, in their different traditions) that with discipline, hard work, encouragement (often delivered in an unconventional manner), and enough education at home, school, and church, a child could pursue almost any dream. In the case of their only daughter, Hillary Diane, born October 26, 1947, this would pay enormous dividends, sending her into the world beyond Park Ridge with a steadiness and sense of purpose that eluded her two younger brothers.  But it came at a price: Hugh imposed a patriarchal unpleasantness and ritual authoritarianism on his household, mitigated only by the distinctly modern notion that Hillary would not be limited in opportunity or skills by the fact that she was a girl.Hugh Rodham, the son of Welsh immigrants, was sullen, tight-fisted, contrarian, and given to exaggeration about his own accomplishments.  Appearances of a sort were important to him: he always drove a new Lincoln or Cadillac. But he wouldn’t hesitate to spit tobacco juice through an open window. He chewed his cud habitually, voted a straight Republican ticket, and was infuriatingly slow to praise his children. “He was rougher than a corncob and gruff as could be,” an acquaintance once said. Nurturance and praise were left largely to his wife, whose intelligence and abilities he mocked and whose gentler nature he often trampled.  “Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass on your way out,” he frequently said at the dinner table when she’d get angry and threaten to leave. She never left, but some friends and relatives were perplexed at Dorothy’s decision to stay married when her husband’s abuse seemed so unbearable.“She would never say, That’s it. I’ve had it,” said Betsy Ebeling,* Hillary’s closest childhood friend, who witnessed many contentious scenes at the Rodham dinner table. Sometimes the doorknob remark would break the tension and everybody would laugh.But not always.By the time Hillary had reached her teens, her father seemed defined by his mean edges — he had almost no recognizable enthusiasms or pretense to lightness as he descended into continuous bullying, ill-humor, complaint, and dejection. (*Ebeling is Betsy’s married name. Her maiden name was Johnson.)In fact, depression seemed to haunt the Rodham men. Hugh’s younger brother, Russell, a physician, was the “golden boy” of the three children of Hannah and Hugh Rodham Sr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  When Russell sank into depression in 1948, his parents asked Hugh to return to Scranton to help. Only hours after his arrival, Russell tried to hang himself in the attic, and Hugh had to cut him down. Afterward, Russell went to Chicago to stay with Hugh, Dorothy, and their baby daughter in their already overcrowded one-bedroom apartment. For months, Russell received psychiatric treatment at the local Veterans Administration hospital. Eventually he moved to a dilapidated walk-up in downtown Chicago, worked as a bartender, and declined into alcoholism and deeper depression until he died, in 1962, in a fire that was caused by a lit cigarette. Hillary deeply felt her father’s pain over the tragedy, she wrote.Hugh’s older brother, Willard, regarded as the most gregarious and fun-loving of the three, never left home or married, and was employed in a patronage job for the Scranton public works department. He resolved after his mother’s death to take care of his father. He dedicated himself completely to the task for the next thirteen years, and when his father died at age eighty-six in 1965, Willard was overwhelmed by despair. He died five weeks later of a coronary thrombosis, according to the coroner’s report, though Hillary’s brother Tony said, “He died of loneliness. When my grandfather died, Uncle Willard was lost.”

Hugh Rodham, himself broken of spirit, his brothers and parents dead, soon thereafter shut his business and retired. Not yet fifty-five, he continued to withdraw. Later, both of Hillary’s brothers, to varying degrees, seemed to push through adulthood in a fog of melancholia.  In 1993, after Hillary’s law partner, close friend, and deputy White House counsel Vince Foster committed suicide, she approached William Styron, who had chronicled his own struggles with depression in his acclaimed book Darkness Visible. The conversation was not only about Foster’s suicide, but also touched on the depression that seemed to afflict members of Hillary’s family.Hillary’s mother, a resilient woman whose early childhood was a horror of abandonment and cruelty, was able to overcome adversity, as would her daughter. Dorothy persevered through five years of dating Hugh Rodham — during which time she worked as his secretary and suspected he was continuing a relationship with another woman — before she agreed to marry him, according to family members. She and Hugh waited another five years to have their first child. (Chelsea Clinton, too, was born in the fifth year of her parents’ marriage.) As intellectually broad-minded as her husband was incurious and uninterested, as inclined to reflection as he was to outburst, she fulfilled her lifelong goal of attending college in her late sixties (majoring in psychology), after she and her husband moved to Little Rock in 1987 to be near their daughter and grandchild. Constantly evolving and changing (like her daughter), she managed almost invariably to find a focus for her energy and satisfaction despite the dissonance of a difficult life at home.  As her husband descended, she even became something of a free spirit, at turns sentimental, analytical, spiritual, and adventurous. (Her favorite movies were not those of her childhood, but The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — an Australian drag queen romp — and the bloody classic Pulp Fiction.) Dorothy taught classes at Sunday school (as would her daughter); Hugh didn’t go to church on Sundays, saying he’d rather pray at home.

Life in the Rodham household resembled a kind of boot camp, presided over by a belittling, impossible-to-satisfy drill instructor. During World War II, as a chief petty officer in the Navy, Rodham had trained young recruits in the U.S. military’s Gene Tunney Program, a rigorous phys-ed regime based on the champion boxer’s training and self-defense techniques, and on the traditional skills of a drill sergeant.  After the war, in which Hugh had been spared overseas duty and was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Station because of a bad knee, he replicated the barracks experience in his own home, commanding loudly from his living room lounge chair (from which he rarely rose, except for dinner), barking orders, denigrating, minimizing achievements, ignoring accomplishments, raising the bar constantly for his frustrated children — “character building,” he called it.

His control over the household was meant to be absolute; confronted with resistance, he turned fierce. If Hillary or one of her brothers had left the cap off a toothpaste tube, he threw it out the bathroom window and told the offending child to fetch it from the front yard evergreens, even in snow. Regardless of how windy and cold the Chicago winter night, he insisted when the family went to bed that the heat be turned off until morning. At dinner, he growled his opinions, indulged few challenges to his provocations, and rarely acknowledged the possibility of being proved wrong. Still, Hillary would argue back if the subject was substantive and she thought she was right. If Dorothy attempted to bring a conflicting set of facts into the discussion, she was typically ridiculed by her husband: “How would you know?” “Where did you ever come up with such a stupid idea?” “Miss Smarty Pants.”

“My father was confrontational, completely and utterly so,” Hugh Jr.  said. Decades later, Hillary and her brothers suggested this was part of a grander scheme to ensure that his children were “competitive, scrappy fighters,” to “empower” them, to foster “pragmatic competitiveness” without putting them down, to induce elements of “realism” into the privileged lifestyle of Park Ridge. Her father would tepidly acknowledge her good work, but tell her she could do better, Hillary said. But there is little to suggest that she or her brothers interpreted such encouragement so benignly at the time. When Hillary came home with all As except for one B on her report card, her father suggested that perhaps her school was too easy, and wondered half-seriously why she hadn’t gotten straight As. Hillary tried mightily to extract some unequivocal declaration of approval from her father, but he had tremendous difficulty in expressing pride or affection.At the dinner table, Betsy Ebeling recalled, “Hillary’s mom would have cooked something good, and her dad would throw out a conversation topic, almost like a glove on the table, and he would always say something the opposite of what I thought he really believed — because it was so completely provocative and outrageous. It was just his way. He was opinionated, and he could be loud, and what better place to [be that way] than in his own home?”Unleashed, his rage was frightening, and the household sometimes seemed on the verge of imploding. Betsy and the few other girlfriends whom Hillary brought home could see that life with Hugh Rodham was painfully demeaning for her mother, and that Hillary winced at her father’s distemper and chafed under his miserliness. Money was always a contentious issue, ultimately the way in which he could exercise undisputed control, especially in response to Hillary’s and Dorothy’s instinctive rebelliousness and the wicked sense of humor they shared.  Sometimes his tirades would begin in the kitchen and continue into her parents’ bedroom. Hillary would put her hands over her ears. But the experience of standing up to her father also prepared her for the intellectual rough-and-tumble that honed Hillary and Bill Clinton’s marital partnership, and helped inure her in the arena of political combat.  “I could go home to two parents who adored everything I did,” said Betsy. “Hillary had a different kind of love; you had to earn it.” As a child, Hillary was affected by her parents’ often-conflicting values, and her politics borrowed from both, she said later. Dorothy was basically a Democrat, although she never told Hugh or anyone else in Park Ridge, according to Hillary.

Hugh Rodham was a self-described rock-ribbed conservative Republican of the Taft-Goldwater school who despised labor unions, opposed most government aid programs, and fulminated against high taxes. He had tried his hand briefly in politics in 1947 when, as a Democraticleaning independent, he ran for alderman in Chicago. He had wanted to ingratiate himself with, or even become part of, the fabled Democratic machine then being assembled by the young Richard Daley, and be in a position to exploit an investment he’d made in a downtown parking lot.  He was swamped in the election by the candidate on the regular Democratic line. Some members of his extended family believe the experience contributed to his strident disdain of Democrats. Every four years, during the Republican National Convention, he would instruct his children to watch the proceedings on television; when the Democrats convened, he ordered the set turned off.

To a child, Hugh seemed an unusually big character — loud, broadshouldered, dominating psychologically as well as physically (he was six foot two, the same height as Bill Clinton, and weighed more than 230 pounds), a former varsity football player and physical education major at Penn State whose hopes of turning pro, he said, had been wiped out by a knee injury that was further aggravated in the Navy.  In all likelihood, though, he had never been a first-stringer at Penn State or a serious professional prospect. He was often described in news stories during the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign as a standout high school quarterback who had been awarded a college football scholarship.  However, there were no football scholarships awarded at Penn State during his years there (1931–1935), and he played third-string tight end, according to university newspaper records. Evidence of his exaggerations in regard to his curriculum vitae is extensive. “He was a bullshit artist,” said one member of the Rodham family who eventually became alienated from him. In high school, he was known as a braggart; in college, he developed a reputation for embellishing tales about himself.  His only conspicuously humble traits were his origins in Scranton, a tough town of factories, mills, coal dust, prostitution, and political corruption.  His father was a loom operator in the big Scranton Lace Works on the Lackawanna River, one of eleven brothers and sisters, almost all of whom had worked on the floor of the factory. His mother, Hannah Jones Rodham — she used all three names — was “hard-headed, often gruff,” Hillary remembered, and dominated the life of her family. Hugh was afflicted by self-doubt while growing up.

Despite his college diploma, embittered and disappointed perhaps because of the effects of the Great Depression on his own prospects, Hugh had remained in the same industry in which he’d worked since childhood—the same as his immigrant father — lace-making and embroidering.  But he also had a great skill: like the man Hillary would marry, he could talk a great game. “Dad was the world’s greatest salesman,” said Tony Rodham. “You never saw him lose a sale. Our father was the best closer I’ve ever met in my life.”

His business acumen was also considerable, and he became quite successful as an entrepreneur. He manufactured drapes, window shades, and lace curtains that he sold to hotels, offices, movie theaters, and airlines — printing and cutting and sewing the fabric himself. His only employee was a black man he’d found drunk on the doorstep in 1958 and offered a part-time job. His wife served as his bookkeeper at the start. The shop, near the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, was stifling hot in summer, and the workroom gave off a whiff of tobacco. There was also a showroom. He invested wisely and saved prodigiously. He was fascinated with the how-to’s of making money — how money makes money, and how he could keep it.

When Hillary was three years old, he bought the mock-Georgian house in Park Ridge, moving from the one-bedroom apartment in downtown Chicago where he and Dorothy had lived since their wedding. The house at 235 Wisner was purchased for $35,000, all cash. Hugh did not believe in borrowing.

Most days, he was back home by 3 or 4 p.m. When the children were growing up, he could usually be found after work sitting in his easy chair with his bad leg stretched out on an ottoman or low table, complaining about something or silently drinking a beer as he watched television, preferably a sports event. He rarely rose from the chair to greet guests or even uttered a welcome, but his presence dominated the room.  When the boys returned from school, he issued their orders for the rest of the day — chores, studying, then lights out early, the same that had been expected of him as a boy in Scranton. Rather than hire tradesmen for regular upkeep of the house, Tony and Hughie were conscripted to patch and paint as required. As a result, the house gradually sank into structural disrepair and headed toward deterioration, so much so that it was described as “a wreck” by the real estate saleswoman who eventually handled its sale — for about $200,000 — when Dorothy and Hugh moved to Little Rock. At the time, it still had antiquated sixty-amp electrical wiring.Hugh Rodham did not pay his children on those weekends when they came downtown to “help work on a big order.” Often he’d drive them through Chicago’s aggregation of skid row neighborhoods to remind them of how fortunate they were. He freely expressed prejudices against blacks in the most denigrating terms. He never had a credit card, taught Hillary and her brothers to read the stock tables in the Chicago Tribune, and counseled the wisdom of thrift. The bitterness never left, despite the accoutrements of prosperity and his children’s devotion.  Rodham had chosen to settle his family in a tranquil neighborhood of two-story, brick-and-frame houses painted in subtle hues, with copses of maples and elms shading the macadam, and small gardens and grassy curbsides lovingly tended. The house was on a corner, its front and side yards seeded green, its sizable front porch directly under the secondfloor bedroom-and-sundeck that was Hillary’s.The house was not large. Downstairs there was a living room; a dining room with space sufficient for a table and eight chairs; a cramped kitchen with a breakfast nook; a TV den perhaps fifteen feet square; and a tiny powder room. Upstairs were three bedrooms — none large.  The basement was unfinished and used for storage. Across the backyard was a garage, only slightly wider than Hugh’s Cadillac but with room for a few bicycles.In “town,” a single stoplight hung like a pendant from wires over the intersection of Main Street and South Prospect Avenue, Park Ridge’s commercial center — candy store, art deco theater, public library, wedding photography studio, pharmacy, coffee shop. Nearby, planes bound for new O’Hare Airport descended like buzzing drones in the twilight.  Park Ridge, then as now, was an altogether different type of suburb from the communities along Chicago’s exclusive North Shore, the houses newer, built mostly in the 1930s and 1940s, without pretension of the grand manner. The breadwinners of Park Ridge in the 1950s and 1960s were mainly first-generation professionals or successful merchanttradesmen like Hillary’s father. They were disposed to exhibiting the ripe fruits of their good fortune and hard work, which had lifted their generational climb from working-class wages: Cadillacs, golf handicaps, gadgets, leisure wear, and leisure time. Many had moved their families from Chicago to escape the incursion of Negroes from the South whose numbers were tipping the city school system. The high school Hillary would attend through eleventh grade, Maine East, was the largest all-white high school in the nation.To reach Park Ridge, you drove or took the Northwest Rail train past the synagogues of Skokie or the tract houses and little apartments in Niles and then, before you got to O’Hare, you turned and skirted some vegetable farms just outside town. Park Ridge had no Jews (at least none that Hillary knew of ), blacks, or Asians, or legal liquor sales, or, so far as Hillary was aware, divorce. Dorothy Rodham was one of the few women in the community who didn’t stay home all day, who could be found in the library’s reading room, or downtown at a museum.

Almost all the Rodhams’ neighbors were Methodist, Catholic, or Lutheran, and voted Republican.After each of Hugh’s children was born, he drove the family back to Scranton for a baptism at Court Street Methodist Church, where he had been baptized in 1911, and his brothers before and after him. Every summer the Rodhams drove across the Alleghenys for a two-week vacation at a cabin he and his father, with their own hands, had built on Lake Winola, near Scranton, in the rolling Pennsylvania hills. The cabin had no heat, bath, or shower. It was a far different environment than the luxurious vacation cottages of many Park Ridge children on the shores of Lake Michigan or the Wisconsin dells.

Hugh meant the vacation to connect his children to a past not as privileged as the one they knew in Park Ridge, as well as to maintain a strong sense of family. On one of their summer vacations, he insisted they visit a coal mine in the anthracite fields nearby. Whatever her discomfort with such gestures at the time, Hillary’s later political identification with working-class values and the struggles of average wage-earners was not something acquired at Wellesley or Yale as part of a 1960s countercultural ethos.

As Hillary and her mother increasingly expressed mixed feelings about the prospect of another Lake Winola vacation, their objections were met with Hugh’s promises of a shopping spree somewhere on the return trip, where they could spend money on clothes and personal items. After one summer holiday in Pennsylvania, Hugh drove to Fifth Avenue in New York and told Dorothy and Hillary they could buy whatever they wanted before the stores closed at five o’clock. Mother and daughter had only twenty-five minutes so they took off their shoes and ran.

While their Park Ridge schoolmates dressed according to the current fashions, the Rodham children rarely got new clothes until they’d outgrown or worn out the old ones; Tony was occasionally dressed in his brother’s hand-me-downs. Neither Hillary nor her mother had much success in persuading Hugh that girls sometimes needed to consider more than the practical in matters of dress. Dorothy herself dressed indifferently.

During summers, the Rodham children were paid pennies for plucking dandelions from the grass. The fact that other kids in the neighborhood received regular allowances failed to impress their father. “They eat and sleep for free. We’re not going to pay them for it as well,” he told Dorothy. He seemed to have an aphorism for every means of denying his wife and children the smaller, store-bought pleasures of their neighbors.  Under her breath, Dorothy had epithets for her husband, like “cheapskate” and “the SOB.” Hillary began earning money as a babysitter for neighbors and at a day care center, and later as a salesgirl in a store on Main Street.

As Hugh Rodham increasingly came to be regarded as an oddity in Park Ridge, he seemed to go to extra lengths to put distance between himself and his neighbors. He almost never showed up at a community barbecue or a PTA meeting. He did not join the local country club or participate in civic enterprises. When Hugh Jr. was quarterback of his high school football team, his father would sit by himself on the sidelines during games, following the action close-up rather than joining the other parents, students, and fans in the stands. Characteristically, when his son had his best day as quarterback, completing ten of eleven passes and throwing several touchdowns, Hugh told him only that he “should have completed the other one.”

Usually the children could recognize when their father was serious and when he was just being cantankerous. But it was a fine line, especially hard to distinguish because he could not bring himself to be demonstrative in an obviously loving way, and because of his violent streak. According to Hillary, “Occasionally, he got carried away when disciplining us, yelling louder or using more physical punishment, especially with my brothers, than I thought was fair or necessary. But even when he was angry, I never doubted that he loved me.” Her father was “not one to spare the rod,”* she wrote. (*How severely Hugh Rodham beat his children has never been directly addressed publicly by Hillary, her brothers, or her mother.)The Rodham brothers as adults described their father as “critical” and “pretty tough,” but also as “kindhearted.” Certainly Hugh Rodham was proud of the accomplishments of his children, but if his methodology was intended to convey tough love in an era before the term became fashionable, the results were mixed at best.His constant pushing of Hillary’s brothers to follow his example — so they, too, might be successful and respected in business — did not always take. Hillary, alone among the Rodham children, seemed to possess his self-discipline.Tony seemed to adjust to his father’s difficult philosophy of parenting better than Hugh Jr., who responded by trying endlessly to please his dad, an impossible task. The more he pandered to his father, the more his father seemed to push him away.“Hugh was toughest on Hughie because he’s his first-born son — and he was very tough on him,” said a member of the Rodham family. “I don’t think he approved of everything he did. But Hughie always wanted that approval, and very much tried to follow in the footsteps of his father. He went to Penn State like his father. He played football like his father.” Yet there was always the feeling that he didn’t measure up. “Tony, on the other hand, didn’t care. Tony just did what he wanted to do, and got Hugh’s respect very early on as a younger child.”At age nine, Tony was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and spent an entire school year bedridden, during which Dorothy nursed and tended to him. Even as adults, Tony and Hughie would seek solace from their mother during difficult times. Though sometimes dour, she was regarded by the children as the heart and soul of the Rodham household. For the most part unflappable in the company of others, she served as referee between the children and her husband, intervening when Hugh became unusually callous or hurtful in his remarks or demands, or too physical.  “They got ridden, treated like men from the time they were three years old,” said a relative. Hillary “was the girl in the house with two crazy little boys,” Betsy Ebeling said. “The first time I walked into that house, Hughie was seven and Tony was four. Hughie threw Tony over the balcony onto the curb and Tony bounced and came up with a smile.  They’re street scrappers, which Hugh loved. They were just physical.They smashed things in the house playing. And Hugh loved that.”Dorothy didn’t.Hugh Jr. and Tony were also the beneficiaries of their sister’s protection.  Even in her teens (as in her years in the White House) she came to their aid when they got into scrapes that required some artful intervention — whether to mollify their father or, later, to quiet a nosy press corps. Though grateful for her intercession, they were also terrified of her, especially of her disapprobation.Until her teenage years, Hillary could get away with many of the minor infractions for which they were penalized. Often the Rodham children engaged in pranks around the house, engineered by Hillary, but it would be the boys who were punished more severely. “ ‘Little Hillary’ could do no wrong,” said Tony. “She was Daddy’s girl, there’s no doubt about it.” Her brothers called Hugh “Old Man,” but Hillary called him Pop-Pop (as would Chelsea Clinton, who also could do no wrong in her grandfather’s eyes). Toward their sister, at least, their father was capable of a modicum of tenderness. He taught her to play baseball, making her swing at his pitches until she connected with the ball solidly; fished with her at the lake; showed her (like her brothers) how to play pinochle; lingered some evenings over her math homework; told her tales of his childhood (including one about a blind mule that worked in the mines and walked outside to find his sight restored, and others about the freight trains he’d supposedly hopped); and exempted her from some of the heavier tasks assigned to her brothers. When he offered praise—in very pointed fashion — it was eagerly accepted because it was so rare.  It was expected that she excel at school, of course. Education was the bedrock of both Hugh’s and Dorothy’s divergent philosophies of parenting, and of their aspirations for their children. “Learning for earning’s sake,” said Hugh. “Learning for learning’s sake,” said Dorothy, or so their children recalled many years later.Dorothy, said Hillary, also often told her, “Do you want to be the lead actor in your life, or a minor player who simply reacts to what others think you should say or do?” She remembers her father, on the other hand, focusing on her problems, often asking her how she would dig herself out of them—which she said always brought to mind a shovel.  Dorothy Howell Rodham had been abandoned by her own parents at age eight. Hillary and her brothers knew little of this history while they were growing up; Dorothy revealed the full story only when Hillary interviewed her for her first book, written during the White House years, It Takes a Village. The Rodhams were a family of secrets (first from one another, then from prying journalists), just as Bill Clinton’s family was.  Complicated feelings of hurt and confusion were never matters for family discussion in the Rodham house.Dorothy’s mother, Della Murray Howell, one of nine children, was only fifteen when Dorothy was born, in Chicago. Her father, Edwin Howell, a fireman, was seventeen. The young couple divorced when Dorothy was eight and her sister, Isabelle, three. Both girls were put on a train and sent without escort to live with their father’s parents in Alhambra, California. In their new home, Dorothy told Hillary, they were constantly criticized, ridiculed, and severely punished by their grandmother, while their grandfather seemed totally removed from their lives. At one point, Dorothy said, her grandmother had ordered her confined to her room for a year during nonworking hours.At fourteen, she left and became a babysitter in the home of a closeknit family who treated her well, sent her to high school, and encouraged her to read widely. Without this experience of living with a strong family, Dorothy told Hillary, she would not have known how to manage her own household or take care of her children.After graduation from high school, Dorothy returned to Chicago because of the marriage of her mother to Max Rosenberg, four or five years her senior. He was well-to-do, owned several Chicago apartment buildings, as well as property in Florida, and was involved in the hotel business. According to members of the Rodham family, Rosenberg had persuaded Della — who could hardly read and write — to send for her children and to try to make amends for the past. It was the first time in ten years that Dorothy had been contacted by her mother, wrote Hillary. “I’d hoped so hard that my mother would love me that I had to take a chance and find out,” Dorothy told her.When Dorothy and Isabelle returned to Chicago, Rosenberg offered to send Dorothy to secretarial or vocational school — but not college, as she had expected. Della, meanwhile, intended Dorothy to be her housemaid.  Dorothy refused to stay with her mother and stepfather and found a job and room of her own; Isabelle moved in with the Rosenbergs.  “My [step]grandfather, Max, for sure wanted her to have an education — I’m sure he promised her some form of education, but she was anticipating a whole lot more,” said Hillary’s first cousin Oscar Dowdy, Isabelle’s son. “I think Dorothy felt she was deceived, but probably more by her mother.”Today a rift remains in the Rodham family related to these events, and only a few facts are indisputable. The role of Rosenberg in the life of Hillary and her family has always been clouded. The first time Hillary mentioned her stepgrandfather publicly was in 1999, during her Senate campaign in New York, after his existence was disclosed by the Forward, a secular Jewish weekly. (She did not include the information in her first book.) “I have nothing but fond memories of Max Rosenberg,” Hillary said in response to the Forward’s story, and recalled family get-togethers at the home of Della and Max. In Living History she wrote only a single sentence about him, simply acknowledging he was Jewish.  Dorothy supported herself by doing office work. When she met Hugh Rodham, she was eighteen, he was twenty-six. Hillary claimed her mother was attracted by his gruff personality, however unlikely that seems.In the last years of his life, Hugh would tell one of his daughters-inlaw that, at first sight, he thought Dorothy was absolutely beautiful. Tony Rodham was amazed when he heard what his father had said; he had never known him to openly express such affection for his wife. She also seemed strong and intelligent to Hugh, qualities that he sometimes seemed unsure of in himself.

After Dorothy and Hugh’s marriage in 1942, and Hugh’s discharge from the Navy in 1945, he and Dorothy moved into a one-bedroom apartment in a building owned by Rosenberg — probably rent-free, according to Oscar Dowdy and others. Isabelle and her husband alsomlived in the building. Hillary and Oscar played together as children.* Hillary described Della as “weak and self-indulgent,” addicted to soap operas, and “disengaged from reality.” She could occasionally “be enchanting.” When Hillary visited her she would be taken to amusement parks and the movies. She died in 1960, unhappy and still “a mystery,” according to Hillary. (*Today Hillary and Oscar Dowdy Jr. do not speak to each other, ostensibly because Oscar — a real estate speculator, like his grandfather Max—failed to provide adequate financial assistance to a brother with health problems.) Dorothy Rodham never took kindly to Max Rosenberg, but Hugh Rodham apparently did, accepting his offer of an apartment, and of advice in financial matters. “They were both hustlers,” said Oscar Dowdy. “They understood each other. And I think Max admired Hugh.  Max realized that Hugh was trying to do something with his life, and Hugh would listen to Max and take Max’s advice ... Over the years, Max helped Hugh with financial matters and gave him business advice and probably loaned him money.” Rosenberg agreed to back Hugh in his parking lot venture, counseling him to run for alderman and, if elected, initiate a change in the zoning laws favorable to their investment.Perhaps as a result of her own grim childhood without a real home, being a competent homemaker was important to Dorothy. At the cabin in Pennsylvania, she assembled a collection of stained glass. Other small collections materialized, which Hugh Rodham grudgingly—and gradually — agreed to let her purchase. She took pride in her visual sense through paint colors and choices of inexpensive department store furniture for the house on Wisner Street. Though Hugh told endless stories about his boyhood and family in Pennsylvania, Dorothy rarely spoke of early life. “I realized that there was a sadness about Dorothy,” said Betsy Ebeling. “I don’t know if ‘beaten down’ is the term — isolated sometimes.  She lived through her children a lot. It was very important to her that her children be happy. I don’t think she thought she could be happy, though she could laugh a lot.” Some visitors to the Rodham home noted a certain fear in Dorothy — fear of being left alone.Dorothy made her own uneasy peace with her husband (“Mr. Difficult,” she called him) and, when the children were still young, had decided to stay in the marriage. Keeping the family together was more important than pursuing independent aspirations or escaping her husband’s indignities, though she had to witness much harshness toward the children.  “Maybe that’s why she’s such an accepting person,” Dorothy said of Hillary. “She had to put up with him.”The same, obviously, could be said of Dorothy.She did not believe in divorce except under the most dire of circumstances, as she first told Hillary in the 1980s. “It was drummed into me by Dorothy that nobody in this family gets divorced,” said Nicole Boxer, who was married to Hillary’s brother Tony from 1994 to 1998 —when they divorced. “From Dorothy — and Tony — I heard divorce is not an option. She’d say, ‘You can work it out.’ She said, ‘You have to talk to him on a level he can understand. Don’t give up on him. You do not leave the marriage.’* She was supportive of us going to counseling, which we did.” (*Boxer also sought advice from Bill Clinton, then president, who advised her to stay married and to try to work things out, especially since she and Tony had an infant son.) Hillary, after considering whether to divorce Governor Bill Clinton in Arkansas, wrote several years later that “children without fathers, or whose parents float in and out of their lives after divorce, are precarious little boats in the most turbulent seas.” Her mother would agree. Given the hardships of her mother’s childhood and Hillary’s own experiences growing up, her decision to devote so much of her professional life to defending and asserting the legal rights of children seems like a natural choice.Hillary and Bill’s difficult but enduring marriage is perhaps more easily explained in the context of her childhood and the marriage of her parents, dominated by the humiliating, withholding figure of her father, whom she managed nonetheless to idolize and (later) to idealize, while rationalizing his cruelty and indifference to the pain he caused his family. “I grew up in a family that looked like it was straight out of Father Knows Best,” Hillary said in It Takes a Village, and also referred to “the stability of family life that I knew growing up.” Hillary’s first boyfriend in college, upon visiting the Rodham house, wondered almost immediately why Dorothy had not walked out of the marriage, and how Hillary had endured her father’s petulance. But Hillary somehow found a way in difficult times to either withdraw or focus on what her father was able to give her, not what was denied. Hillary knew she was loved, or so she said.  As a child, Hillary had tried every way she knew to please him and win his approval, and then spent years seething at his treatment of her. The pattern seemed to repeat itself in her marriage. Both Hugh and Bill Clinton, who came to like and respect each other, were outsized personalities whose presence inevitably dwarfed others around them. In Clinton’s case, this dominance was seductive, mesmerizing, fascinating. Rodham’s effect on people, especially outside his immediate family, was usually the opposite — alienating, forbidding, unpleasant. As she later did with her husband, Hillary eventually took an almost biblical view in her forgiveness and rationalization of her father’s actions: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” The lesson came directly from Hugh Rodham: “He used to say all the time, ‘I will always love you but I won’t always like what you do,’ ” said Hillary (which cynics might regard as understated shorthand for how Hillary came to view her husband). “And, you know, as a child I would come up with nine-hundred hypotheses. It would always end with something like, ‘Well, you mean, if I murdered somebody and was in jail and you came to see me, you would still love me?’ “And he would say: ‘Absolutely! I will always love you, but I would be deeply disappointed and I would not like what you did because it would have been wrong.’ ” One of Bill and Hillary’s principal aides came to a less theological interpretation after years of watching (and listening to) the Clintons—and the Rodhams, who often stayed at the White House. Hillary, said the aide, devolved into “kind of the classic bitchy wife . . . not quite putting her hand on her hip and finger-wagging at him, but practically. Nah-nahnah.  . . . She has a derisive tone that is very similar to the way she sometimes sounds publicly—a sing-songy tone, like, ‘I guess I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had cheese.’ That tone only more so. . . . It’s very much directed at him, his faults, his shortcomings; that he’s let her down again.”The same tone, others have observed, characterized the way Dorothy Rodham sometimes responded to her husband’s failings.  “Hillary hates the fact that Bill Clinton cheats on her, and that he doesn’t need her as much as she wants,” said the aide. “And he’s weak. She’s a very judgmental Methodist from the Midwest. As much as they talk about loving the sinner, they actually also despise a part of the sinner. They hate the weakness. They hate the part of the person who can’t toe the puritan line.”

Excerpted from “A Woman in Charge” by Carl Bernstein. Copyright 2007 Carl Bernstein. Reprinted with the permission from the publisher, Knopf.