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Growing Up Rodham

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Dorothy had her own ideas but struggled to be heard over Hugh. "He was so sure of himself in ways that eclipsed her mother," says Jan Piercy, a college roommate of Hillary's. Dorothy's childhood was difficult; she was semi-abandoned and forced to work from the age of 14 as a nanny and a secretary. She played the role of deferential homemaker in the interest of domestic stability, but she was a frustrated intellectual who devoured books, and she influenced Hillary in her own way. She taught her daughter how to read a carpenter's level, she told Clinton biographer Gail Sheehy. "Imagine having this carpenter's level inside you," she said. "You try to keep that bubble in the center. Sometimes it will go way up there," she tilted the level. "And then you have to bring it back."

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Hillary Rodham, a sheappeared in her 1965 high school yearbook in a photo of National Merit Scholar finalists.
Hillary Rodham, a sheappeared in her 1965 high school yearbook in a photo of National Merit Scholar finalists. (Maine Township High School South Photo)
At school, Hillary was a precocious teacher's pet in a round-collared blouse. She won her first office in fifth grade, co-captain of the safety patrol. She wore a little white belt. Ricketts remembers how their teacher, Miss Elizabeth King, would pose a question to the class and there would be dead silence. After a long pause, Miss King would say, "Why don't you tell them, Hillary."

Hillary never got in trouble. Not even when Miss King taught square dancing and Ricketts, antic in a bow tie and spit curl, made her choke with laughter by chanting under his breath, "Swing your partner by the neck. Swing her till she's dead."

By ninth grade at Maine Township High, she was on every virtually committee in the student government and was enthralled by a fiercely anti-communist history teacher named Paul Carlson. Schoolmate John Peavoy recalls that during the 1960 presidential election, 30 students were assigned to watch the Kennedy-Nixon debate. All but two, "a couple of oddballs," declared themselves Nixon supporters. (When Nixon lost, Hugh was convinced that Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley stole the election for Kennedy, and Hillary rode a bus downtown to check for fraudulent voter addresses.)

It was Carlson who gave Hillary a copy of Barry Goldwater's "The Conscience of a Conservative," and she consumed it, struck by the javelin-like power of sentences such as "The Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order." She wrote a 75-page term paper on it.

Carlson was her unchallenged mentor until a day in 1961 when Don Jones blew into town, in a red Chevy Impala convertible. The new youth minister at the First United Methodist Church wore white bucks and played the guitar. "Really more Pat Boone than Mario Savio," he says. He was full of ideas about personal faith as social action, which he had absorbed while studying Reinhold Niebuhr at Drew University seminary.

Jones made Hillary rethink almost everything. He hosted a youth group called the University of Life, in which he asked Park Ridge teenagers: "How do we in the 20th century discern the existence of God or the dimension of the sacred in our common life?" He explained Picasso's "Guernica" as religious art. He screened edgy films, such as James Dean's "Rebel Without a Cause," and then asked: "Where did you find sin in the movie? Where did you find grace?"

Jones arranged discussions with disadvantaged children in Chicago and took his youth group to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak at Orchestra Hall on a Sunday night in 1962. King's address was "Sleeping Through the Revolution," and in his vibrato he decried suburbanites who passed the poor by. Jones introduced the children to King personally, and Hillary was so affected that she volunteered to babysit for the children of migrant workers during harvest.

Not surprisingly, Carlson resented Jones's liberal sway over his prodigy, who by then was vice president of her junior class. "Hillary was one of his main projects because he admired her and respected her as one of the best students he had," Jones says. Jones thought Carlson was a slanted ideologue. Ricketts recalls: "Don represented the questioning of values, and Paul Carlson was the values being questioned."

The final straw came when Jones found Carlson distributing anti-communist pamphlets in church. Jones complained to senior ministers, who convened a meeting of the two men in front of the youth group. It was supposed to be conciliatory, but Carlson and Jones went at it. Carlson suggested that the church's educational thrust was pro-communist. An exasperated Jones cried out, "Who do you think you are, Paul Carlson, Jesus Christ?"

Shortly afterward, Jones was forced to resign. He'd lasted just two years in Park Ridge. "Then he was gone," Ricketts says. "But it was too late. The seeds were planted."

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