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Charting the Historic Significance of Hillary Rodham Clinton (April 2017): Home

By Angela Fritz


This bibliographic essay originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Choice (volume 54 | number 8). 


The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, was passed in 1920 after a series of increasingly intense protests across the country. In the drive for passage, women took to the streets in 1917 with massive parades in New York City that culminated in picket lines outside the iron gates of the White House. Abandoning the more passive suffrage parade that characterized the movement at the turn of the century, women started their much more politicized daily picketing vigils in front of the White House in January of 1917. Women associated their cause with the national symbol at the center of American political power, and at the same time illustrated their exclusion and disenfranchisement from the American political system.

Each morning, the women’s protests began with displays of signs that read, “Mr. President, What Will You Do For Woman Suffrage?” As the twenty-eighth president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson had joined a long line of male presidents who had been unresponsive to women’s universal suffrage. Taking office in 1913, Wilson had little support for the Anthony amendment and had not taken an active stance on suffrage during his presidency. Over the course of the next six months, suffrage protests intensified with eighteen women from twenty-six states arrested in front of the White House. By the end of the year, the protestors culminated their vigil by burning Woodrow Wilson in effigy in frustration for defeat of the amendment. It wasn’t until 1918 that Wilson publicly endorsed women’s right to vote, and two years later until the amendment was ratified.

This long history of women’s fight for political enfranchisement was not lost when Hillary Clinton accepted the presidential nomination on the stage of the 2016 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. Clinton had become, almost a century after a constitutional amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, the first woman from a major political party nominated for president of the United States. References to this milestone were integrated throughout Clinton’s acceptance speech, as she acknowledged her victory “was not about one person, but belonged to generations of women and men who had struggled and sacrificed and made the moment possible.” Clinton alluded to the suffrage movement as she discussed her mother, who had been born on June 4, 1919, the day Congress passed the nineteenth amendment. Women delegates, who were born in the era of women’s universal suffrage, were honored on the convention floor as they proudly cast their votes for the “first woman president,” the DNC tweeted historic photos of the 1917 suffrage protests, and the next day, the New York Times surmised that Clinton’s choice to wear white on the night of her acceptance speech was an homage to the suffrage movement’s national colors.

While the country fell short of ushering the first woman president through the gates of the White on the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Clinton’s place in history should not be diminished. Clinton holds a special place in American history with a long line of strong-willed precursors beginning with Victoria Woodhull in 1872 and Belva Lockwood in 1884 and extending to Margaret Chase Smith, Patsy Mink, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Patricia Schroeder, Leonora Fulani, Elizabeth Dole, and Carol Mosley Brown. And, while other significant high-profile women have commanded scholarly attention, none have approached the significance of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her accomplishment marks a special chapter in US  political history, as she progressed farther than any woman as a US presidential candidate.

To read her history is to trace a political metamorphosis. The robust historiography of Clinton, characterized as “Hillary Studies” by some, is a study of her path to power as she assumed leadership roles and amassed influence as First Lady, senator, and secretary of state. This bibliographic essay explores the works that document her ascent, detailing how she crafted her own political identity and charted her own course. These works explore her political persona, her hard-fought campaigns, and others’ perceptions of her including her contemporaries, the media, her supporters, her revivals, and her critics. They also outline her political philosophy and worldview, trace her advocacy of human rights as First Lady to her leadership on global feminism as secretary of state, and provide an overview of her approach to US diplomacy. These works offer interpretations on the influence of her marriage to President Bill Clinton and the interconnected narrative of her public and private lives over the course of her career. Although this essay is not meant to provide a comprehensive list of works on Clinton, these books provide an important framework and background that will inform future studies on her impact and influence within national and global contexts.

Angela Fritz received a PhD in American History from Loyola-University-Chicago, and an MLS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Previously, Angela Fritz was employed by the Office of Presidential Libraries and Museums in Washington, D.C. where she worked on presidential library development and White House outreach initiatives for the National Archives. Currently, she serves as the Head of Archives at the University of Notre Dame.