Dorothy Rodham, Hillary Clinton’s mother and an Alhambra High graduate, dies at 92

Hillary Clinton and her mother, Dorothy Rodham | photo from Politico1Hillary Clinton and her mother, Dorothy Rodham | photo from Politico

The mother of Hillary Rodham Clinton and member of Alhambra High School class of 1937, Dorothy Rodham died early Tuesday in Washington. Details of her illness were not disclosed. Rodham was 92.

Dorothy Rodham had an unstable childhood | photo courtesy of MSNBCIn her autobiography “Living History,” Secretary of State Clinton characterized her mother’s childhood as lonely and loveless. Born on June 4, 1919, in Chicago, Rodham was the eldest of two children and lived in a boarding house with her family. Her parents, Edwin John Howell Jr., a firefighter, and Della Murray, frequently fought, according to a New York Times obituary. After divorcing his wife in 1927, Howell decided to send Rodham, who was eight at the time, and her younger sister Isabelle on a train to live with his parents across the country in Alhambra.

Life was not easy for Rodham in the San Gabriel Valley, as the Times obituary describes in detail.

The grandparents were ill-prepared to raise the girls. Mr. Howell, a laborer for the city, left the task to his wife, whom Mrs. Rodham recalled as a strict woman in black dresses who discouraged visitors and parties and berated and punished them for small infractions. When she discovered that Dorothy had gone trick-or-treating one Halloween, she ordered her confined to her room for a year, except to go to school.

In 1934 Dorothy moved out and became a housekeeper, cook and nanny for a family in San Gabriel. Her employers gave her a room, board and $3 a week and encouraged her to read and go to school. Dorothy enrolled at Alhambra High School, where she joined the Scholarship Club and the Spanish Club.

Years later, Mrs. Rodham recalled two teachers: Miss Drake, who taught speech and drama, and Miss Zellhoefer, who taught her to write. “She taught English and was very strict,” Mrs. Rodham wrote in a book marking the school’s centennial in 1998. “We came from her class with respect for her and a solid ground in English. What made her special was her desire that we develop critical thinking.”

She graduated in 1937 and moved back to Chicago in an attempt to reconcile with her mother, who had remarried. After a failed promise that Della’s new husband would help Rodham pay for college expenses, Rodham had nowhere else to go and eventually found office work in the city.
Rodham and her husband, Hugh Ellsworth Rodham
In 1942, she met and married Hugh Ellsworth Rodham, a conservative Republican who was an interesting counterpart to Rodham’s Democratic ideals. Hugh was a traveling salesman at the time and would later become a successful businessman in the textile industry. They moved to Park Ridge, a suburb in Illinois, where their three children, Hillary, Hugh, and Tony, were born and raised. “Her story was a quintessentially American one, largely because she wrote it herself,” the Clinton family said in an email statement to reporters.

Rodham avoided the media limelight and rarely gave interviews. But she was always a key supporter of Clinton on the sidelines, according to The Huffington Post. She was by Clinton’s side at various campaign events during her battle with Barack Obama for the presidential nomination in 2008.photo from The New York Times

“I owe it to 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,” Clinton said in a public debate during the 2008 campaign.

Rodham died shortly after midnight surrounded by loved ones in Georgetown University Hospital. Clinton cancelled her trips to London and Istanbul to be by her mother’s side. In addition to Hillary Clinton and former U.S. president Bill Clinton, Rodham is survived by her other daughter Isabelle Rodham and her four grandchildren: Chelsea, Zachary, Fiona and Simon Rodham.

About the author: Deanna Ong

Deanna Ong is a freelance writer and copy editor. Her profile on an L.A. street artist was recently published in “The Writing Disorder Anthology,” a book in which she is the youngest of 40 featured writers. When she’s not trying to get work done in the Alhambra Civic Center Library, Deanna could be found drinking boba at one of Alhambra’s many tea stores, shooting pool at The Cue Ball, or biking through the city like a madwoman.

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