Dorothy Rodham, mother of Hillary Clinton, dead at 92

November 1, 2011

Dorothy Rodham, 92, a suburban Chicago homemaker who endured a devastating childhood and served as an inspiration to her daughter, Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of the most accomplished women in American government, died Nov. 1 at a hospital in Washington.

Her family announced her death but did not disclose the cause. Mrs. Rodham, who reportedly had a heart condition, collapsed Monday and was taken to a hospital. Secretary of State Clinton canceled a trip to London and Istanbul to be at her mother’s side.

Mrs. Rodham spent decades as a familiar but unflashy presence alongside her daughter and son-in-law, former president Bill Clinton.

She accompanied them to Arkansas, where Bill Clinton was governor, and then to Washington after Bill became president and, later, Hillary was elected senator from New York.

Mrs. Rodham never worked outside the home, raising three children in the suburban enclave of Park Ridge, Ill., under the watchful eye of her husband, a conservative Republican who owned a drapery-making business.

In a restrictive household dominated by its patriarch, Mrs. Rodham funneled ambition and a passion for learning to her daughter, who has long credited her mother with giving her the tools — and toughness — to enter politics.

During her unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008, Clinton said she owed her inspiration to one person: “My mother, who never got a chance to go to college, who had a very difficult childhood, but who gave me a belief that I could do whatever I set my mind” to.

Dorothy Emma Howell was born June 4, 1919, in Chicago, the eldest of two daughters of Edwin Howell Jr., a firefighter, and Della Murray.

Her parents’ marriage turned violent. After their divorce in the late 1920s, they sent their daughters — Dorothy and Isabelle — alone on a train to California to live with their paternal grandparents, who turned out to be severe and unpredictable disciplinarians. Her grandmother, who was fond of black Victorian dresses and discouraged parties or visitors, once confined Dorothy to her bedroom for a year, with the exception of attending school, as punishment for trick-or-treating.

Dorothy moved out on her own at 14 and worked as a housekeeper in San Gabriel, Calif., while attending high school.

After graduation, she returned to Chicago with hopes of reconciling with her mother. Her mother and her new husband had told her they would pay for her college education. But when she arrived, they backed away from the promise and instead asked her to work as their housekeeper.

“Once I asked my mother why she went back to Chicago,” Clinton wrote in her 2003 memoir “Living History.” “ ‘I’d hoped so hard that my mother would love me that I had to take the chance and find out,’ she told me. ‘When she didn’t, I had nowhere else to go.’ ”

In 1942, she married traveling salesman Hugh Rodham. Their daughter was born five years after that. Later, they had two sons, Hugh and Tony.

Mrs. Rodham did not learn to drive until the 1960s, instead taking her growing family on long walks to the grocery store and encouraging her children to explore the world. Years later, she became a solo traveler, taking international trips alone.

As a stay-at-home mother, she prodded her daughter to stand up for herself and once sent her back outside to confront a bully.

“We moved into this new house, new neighborhood, and she would come in crying and screaming about the fact that she’d been set upon by a group of children, mostly her age, and this one girl who was exactly her age, Suzy, across the street,” Mrs. Rodham recounted in a rare interview on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show in 2004. “She came in one day, and I said, ‘You know, this is just about enough, Hillary. You have to face things and show them you’re not afraid.’ ”

Decades later, through her daughter’s most tumultuous moments, Mrs. Rodham was always on hand — though rarely visible to the public. She never commented on the Clintons’ marriage or her daughter’s presidential defeat. But she did film an ad during in December 2007, shortly before the Iowa Democratic caucuses, in which she said she would vote for Hillary Clinton whether she was her daughter or not.

Mrs. Rodman’s husband died in 1993, while they were living in Little Rock. In addition to her three children, survivors include four grandchildren.

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