Hillary Clinton Parents & GrandparentsNone of Secretary Clinton’s grandparents and parents can be considered wealthy. They were middle-class in every sense of the word. In fact, during a campaign rally in Norwalk, Iowa on April 15, 2015, Sec. Clinton stated that her grandparents “worked hard, they kept the faith, they lifted themselves up into the middle class, they brought property.”
Her paternal grandfather, Hugh Simpson Rodham (1879-1965), is an Englishman who traveled to Scranton, Pennsylvania from Newcastle, England in 1892. Hugh started working at a lace mill at the age of 13 until his retirement five decades later. His future wife, Hannah Jones (1882-1952), was born in Scranton to Welsh immigrants parents, John and Mary Jones.
They were married in August 1902 not long after Hannah started working in the same mill. She gave birth to Hugh Ellsworth Rodham, Secretary Clinton’s father, in 1911. Hannah stopped working after that, and using the money they had saved, they purchased a couple of small properties which they rented out to fellow factory workers.
In a speech at the 2014 United Methodist Women Assembly, Secretary Clinton said her grandmother Hannah was “one of those tough Methodist women who was never afraid to get her hands dirty.” She further reminisced:
“I have vivid memories of her final years when she was going blind, still braiding my hair in the morning, still reciting old hymns and giving me the direction for what I was to do that day. The world had changed so much during her lifetime, but it’s also changed during ours.”
Secretary Clinton’s maternal grandparents, Chicagoan firefighter Edwin John Howell, Jr. (1897–1946) and housewife Della Murray (1902–1960), were second-generation Americans. While her father grew up in a loving and stable household, Secretary Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Emma Howell (1919-2011), lived in a dysfunctional Dickensian childhood of cramped living quarters, violence and near poverty.
At the age of eight, she and her 3-year-old sister were sent on a four-day train journey to California to live with their unwelcoming and strict grandparents. Her authoritarian grandparents even grounded her once for an entire year for trick-or-treating during Halloween.
Dorothy Emma Howell
She ran away from home at the age of 14, and started working as a housekeeper and nanny. Her employer took pity on her and allowed Dorothy to stay at her home. She also encouraged Dorothy to resume her high school education. Dorothy agreed, and graduated from Alhambra High School three years later.
Her mother Della, who had remarried by then, asked her to move back to Chicago. She also offered to pay for college. Excited, Dorothy traveled back to Chicago after graduation in 1937. However, when she arrived, she found out that her stepfather had no intention of paying for her college expenses, and her mother wanted her to work as a housekeeper instead.
“I’d hoped so hard that my mother would love me that I had to take the chance and find out. When she didn’t, I had nowhere else to go.”
Armed with the little savings that she had, the heartbroken Dorothy started a new life on her own in Chicago. Before long, she found employment as a secretary.
Meanwhile, young Hugh Ellsworth Rodham was already a star salesman at the textile supply company he was working at in Chicago, which he joined shortly after graduating from college in 1935. As luck would have it, Dorothy and Hugh Jr.’s path crossed one fine day in 1937 at the Columbia Lace Company. As Hugh Jr. was making a routine sales call to a textile factory, he stumbled across Dorothy who was there applying for a typist-stenographer position. They were married five years later in 1942, and lived in an apartment in Lincoln Park near Lake Michigan.
A few months after they were married, Hugh enlisted with the U.S. Navy in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Thankfully, he was assigned just an hour away from home at the Great Lakes Naval Station. Before long, he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer, and was tasked with training young sailor recruits before they are shipped off to fight in the war.
After the war ended, Hugh established Rodrik Fabrics, a drapery fabric retailer, in Merchandise Mart Plaza in downtown Chicago.