WASHINGTON — Chicago native Dorothy Rodham, the mother of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton whose hardscrabble early life deeply influenced her daughter, died Tuesday at the age of 92.
The mother-in-law of former President Bill Clinton, Mrs. Rodham passed away here shortly after midnight, “surrounded by her family,” a statement from the Clinton family said.
“I’m still amazed at how my mother emerged from her lonely early life as such an affectionate and levelheaded woman,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in her memoir, Living History.
Mrs. Rodham’s mother, Della Howell, “essentially abandoned my mother when she was only three or four, leaving her alone all day for days on end with meal tickets to use at a restaurant near their five-story walk-up apartment on Chicago’s South Side,” recalled Mrs. Clinton in her book.
Dorothy Emma Howell Rodham was born June 4, 1919, the oldest of two children. Author Donnie Radcliffe wrote in a biography of Mrs. Clinton that a 1920 Chicago census showed Mrs. Rodham lived with her parents on South Michigan Avenue near east 30th St.
Her father, Edwin John Howell Jr., was a Chicago firefighter who died in 1947; Della Howell died in 1960. The Howells divorced in 1927. An eight-year old Dorothy and younger sister Isabelle were sent to live with their paternal grandparents in Alhambra, Calif.
Ten years later, she returned to Chicago after her mother re-established contact and promised to pay for college — a broken pledge, it turned out. A young Dorothy went to work instead. She met her future husband, Hugh, when she was applying for a job as a clerk-typist at a textile company.
Hugh and Dorothy Rodham married in 1942 and moved into an apartment in Lincoln Park. On Oct. 26, 1947, Mrs. Rodham, then 28, gave birth to her first child, Hillary Diane, at the old Edgewater Hospital, 5700 N. Ashland, taking her home to their apartment at 5722 N. Winthrop.
In 1951, the Rodhams moved into a two-story Georgian at 235 Wisner St. in Park Ridge where they raised Hillary and her brothers, Hugh and Tony.
After the move, a four-year-old Hillary was beaten up by Suzy, a neighborhood bully, reported Gail Sheehy in her May 1992 Vanity Fair profile of Mrs. Clinton that highlighted Mrs. Rodham. “There’s no room in this house for cowards,” Hillary’s mother announced one day, Sheehy wrote. “You’re going to have to stand up to her. The next time she hits you, I want you to hit her back.” Wrote Sheehey, “Hillary threw out her fist, knocking Suzy off her pins.” Hillary then announced, “I can play with the boys now!”
The Rodhams moved from Park Ridge to Little Rock, Ark., where Bill Clinton was governor. Later, Mrs. Rodham moved to Washington. She was in the Senate gallery on Jan. 3, 2001, to watch her daughter get sworn in as a New York senator. With grand-daughter Chelsea, Mrs. Rodham jumped on the campaign trail in 2008 to help Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid.
President Obama said Tuesday, “Ms. Rodham was a remarkable person. Anybody who knows her history knows what a strong, determined and gifted person she was. For her to have been able to live the life that she did and to see her daughter succeed at the pinnacle of public service in this country, I’m sure was deeply satisfying to her.”
Memorial services will be private.
below, a statement from the Clinton Family on the Passing of Dorothy Rodham
Dorothy Howell Rodham was born in Chicago on June 4, 1919 and died shortly after midnight on November 1, 2011 in Washington, D.C., surrounded by her family. Her story was a quintessentially American one, largely because she wrote it herself. She overcame abandonment and hardship as a young girl to become the remarkable woman she was – a warm, generous and strong woman; an intellectual; a woman who told a great joke and always got the joke; an extraordinary friend and, most of all, a loving wife, mother and grandmother.
Dorothy is and always will be lovingly remembered by her daughter and son-in-law, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton; her sons and daughters-in-law, Hugh Rodham and Maria Rodham and Tony Rodham and Megan Rodham; her grandchildren, Chelsea Clinton and her husband Marc Mezvinsky, Zachary Rodham, Fiona Rodham and Simon Rodham. She leaves behind many friends from all stages and places in her life, friends from California she met in high school, friends from Little Rock and Washington with whom she explored the world, the people who were first her doctors and then became her friends at George Washington Hospital, to the people she met through her children and grandchildren who became as much her friend as theirs.
To honor Dorothy, her family will hold a private celebration of her life for family and friends. In lieu of flowers and in line with what Dorothy would have wanted, the family have asked that any one who would want to do so would make a donation in Dorothy’s memory to George Washington Hospital (http://www.gwhospital.com/Donations) where she received excellent care and made terrific friends over many years; to the Heifer Project (http://www.heifer.org/), her Christmas gift of choice in 2010 and an organization dear to her heart; or to a local organization meaningful to the giver that helps neglected and mistreated children, a blight Dorothy was determined to remedy until her last day because she knew too well the pain too many children suffer. Her family is and will be forever grateful for the gift of Dorothy’s life and for the memories they will treasure forever.