Nation & World

Profile: Sen. Clinton's years at Yale Law are the key to her development

Editor's note: With the Iowa caucus set to kick off the primary election season Jan. 3, the Telegraph will present profiles of the major presidential candidates. New profiles will appear each day through Jan. 3.

All that Hillary Rodham Clinton would become — all that inspires her allies and her enemies alike — emerged during her years roaming the Gothic buildings of Yale Law School.

She helped edit a journal that included cartoon police-pigs and that published a self-aggrandizing essay by a Black Panther who'd been convicted of murder. Yet she also helped calm a politically inflamed campus.

She nurtured an interest in using the law to aid the needy — especially children — that remains integral to her politics, but which opponents use to pummel her values.

She projected an intelligence that impressed many, but that could be cool and intimidating.

And she met fellow student Bill Clinton and developed the first stirrings of a unique partnership that's already made American history — and that she hopes will make more.

Hillary Rodham arrived at Yale in 1969 a minor celebrity, thanks to her commencement speech at equally elite Wellesley College outside Boston, where she rebuked a senator who was sitting nearby.

"You knew she was impressive, although you might not know why," classmate Paul Helmke said. "She held herself as someone that was going to be good at whatever she wanted to do. There was sort of an aura about her. Even then."

With that came a no-nonsense demeanor.

Rodham gained more prominence the second semester of her first year at Yale Law, when it seemed "the whole place was falling apart ... the most intense year in the history of Yale Law School," said Laura Kalman, who wrote "Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations."

Several Black Panthers were on trial for murder in New Haven. The campus, opened to New Left demonstrators associated with the trial, became a circus. Downtown business owners, fearing violence, boarded up their windows. A law library was set afire. The shooting deaths of four student demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio by National Guardsmen further enraged campuses nationwide.

Rodham — sympathetic to the angry left but insistent that its grievances could be resolved within the system — moderated a tense campus meeting at which violence seemed to percolate under the surface, as students debated how to respond to Kent State and issues specific to Yale.

Quoting an unnamed student, Kalman wrote: "Hillary did what nowadays would be international summitry — flying back and forth between sides," maintaining credibility with all, impressing faculty and fellow students, helping to keep New Haven peaceful.

Yale also introduced Rodham to children's issues, through work for the Children's Defense Fund and New Haven legal-aid lawyer Penn Rhodeen.

Rhodeen remembers Rodham as "a vision in purple. She had on this sheepskin coat ... driving a purple Gremlin, and she had long Gloria Steinem hair and Gloria Steinem glasses"; a typical early '70s look, "only more so." They worked on a child custody case that sparked a deep interest in children's rights.

Years later, Rhodeen learned that Rodham's mother had been abandoned by her parents and, at age 8, put in charge of her 3-year-old sister on a cross-country train to live a Dickensian existence with relatives.

Much later, those emerging passions provided fodder for Hillary-haters to portray her as an anti-family radical.

In the summer of 1971, Rodham worked at an Oakland, Calif., law firm at which at least two partners had been members of the Communist Party; one, Robert Treuhaft, had been a leading lawyer for the party. The firm previously had defended Black Panthers.

At a hearing of the Democratic National Committee in Boston, she urged that the party's 1972 platform "respond to a growing movement to extend civil and political rights to children," The New York Times reported. In 1973, she published an article in the Harvard Educational Review that asserted a broad view of children's rights.

Then there's her work as associate editor of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action, whose incendiary content included an issue featuring four forbidding soldiers on its cover, wearing gas masks and armed with rifles with fixed bayonets.

Many anti-Clinton books, articles and Web sites mine the Yale years; the late conservative writer Barbara Olson wrote that the Harvard article "reveals a leftist ideologue, dedicated to centrally directed social engineering, dismissive of the traditional role of the family, and interested in children primarily as levers with which to obtain political power."

Rodham's time at Yale also was important for personal reasons: She met Bill Clinton in the cavernous law library in the spring of 1971. Their first date was at an art museum, and they eventually lived together on the first floor of a rickety two-story wood-frame house near the campus.

The next year, Watergate prosecutor John Doar came to New Haven to judge the Black Panthers' trial, of which Rodham was now a leader. He hired several Yalies, including Rodham, to work on the Nixon impeachment inquiry.

Well-networked, ready to use the law to pursue her passions, Rodham left Yale far more prepared for a powerful, activist future than the average young woman from middle-class Park Ridge.

"It was a completely different sort of world then," classmate Joan Tumpson said. "I don't think the women in my class had the training to think strategically about their careers. I'm not sure I'd say that about Hillary. She always seemed to be two or three steps ahead."

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