Editorial: Hillary Clinton and little girl dreams

Editor's note: This editorial is adapted from one published Aug. 26, 2008, during Hillary Clinton's first race for president.

When Hillary Clinton was a youngster in Park Ridge, little girls didn't dream of someday growing up to become president.

Little girls' dreams were confined for a large number of them to what their husbands might become. If they dreamed of the White House, it was, ironically enough, a dream of occupying it as a first lady, the traditional way Hillary Clinton actually did end up occupying it.

Imagine, if you will, the pallid America of 1947, the achromatic place and time where she was born.

It was a time when it was not uncommon for an adult woman to be known by her husband's name. Mrs. Bill Clinton, it could easily have been then, with barely a hint of Hillary at all.

The U.S. Senate had 96 members, none of them women. The U.S. House of Representatives had 435 members — seven were women. Of those seven, three ended up in office as sentimental surrogates appointed to fill their dead husbands' seats.

One of those three emerged, however, as something different. Margaret Chase Smith, Republican from Maine, later ran for president when then Hillary Rodham was 16. When Smith did in 1964, she became the first woman in the history of the republic to seek a major party presidential nomination.

Can you imagine? The first. Almost 188 years after the nation was founded. Even then, Smith's candidacy was not taken seriously. It had significance as a historical precedent, but not much more. All told, she collected 27 convention delegates.

Now, Hillary Clinton makes history as the presumptive presidential nominee of a major political party.

How far this daughter of Park Ridge has come from her Northwest suburban roots. And whether you support or oppose her politics, how far this historic moment has taken the country.

A century ago, women did not aspire to the White House; they could not even go to the polls. Less than a century ago.

Can you imagine? Women did not win the right to vote until 1920. Only 27 years before Clinton was born.

And 144 years after the nation had been.

The gender gap has closed a good deal since 1947. The evidence is all around us. But there remains a distance to narrow. “Far away, there in the sunshine, are my highest aspirations,” said 19th-century novelist and feminist Louisa May Alcott. “I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead.”

Whether you support her or oppose her, this is the legacy Hillary Clinton brings:

Today, little girls can dream of growing up to become president.

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