Hillary Clinton. First woman presidential nominee.
OK, of a major political party. We’re not going into the minor-party exceptions since that would require a lengthy discussion of Victoria Woodhull in 1872. Under normal circumstances, Woodhull would certainly be worth talking about, given the faith healing and the brokerage firm and the obscenity trial. But this is Hillary’s moment.
“It’s really emotional,” Clinton said in a speech this week. Clinton brings up the first-woman thing a lot, and the idea of showing little girls that they can be “anything you want to be. Even President of the United States.” For many young women, that’s actually old news, since Hillary the potential president has been around most of their lives. Back when she was first elected to the Senate in 2000, the coverage was so omnipresent that my niece Anna, who was around 3, asked my sister whether it was possible for a man to be a senator.
The people who get most excited are the ones who remember how things used to be, back when girls couldn’t envision being in the Little League, let alone the White House. And can you imagine going back in history and sharing Clinton’s news with the suffragists? This is one of my favorite mind games — pretend you’re returning to 1872 and telling the story to Susan B. Anthony while she was being handcuffed for the crime of voting while female.
Or there’s the other route of telling some historical figure who would faint with horror. Like Thomas Jefferson — wouldn’t you want to see his face? We all know how good Jefferson was on freedom of speech, but he was possibly the worst sexist in the very competitive group known as the Founding Fathers. (“Our good ladies, I trust, have been too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics. They are contented to soothe and calm the minds of their husbands returning ruffled from political debate.”)
But Clinton wouldn’t want this to be a moment for rancor. So I asked for her own pick.
And her answer was: If she could go into the past to tell someone that she’d been nominated for President of the United States, it would be her mother.
Dorothy Rodham had an auspicious date of birth — June 4, 1919, the very same day the Senate passed a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. But otherwise, she had a terrible beginning. Her parents abandoned her. At 8, she was riding across the country, unaccompanied except for her younger sister, on the way to live with grandparents who didn’t want them. She went off on her own at 14, working as a housekeeper during the Depression. But she got herself through high school, was a good student and raised her own daughter to believe the sky was the limit.
Before we head off on the rest of this deeply imperfect election, take a second and enjoy. Imagine Hillary Clinton going back in time. She sits in the train next to a frightened little girl and delivers the news about what happened this week.