Get to Know Hillary Clinton

Charles Gibson's private look at the presidential hopefuls.

ByABC News
December 6, 2007, 11:55 AM

Dec. 6, 2007— -- ABC News' Charles Gibson spoke with Sen. Hillary Clinton as part of the "Who Is" series, which features one interview a week with a presidential candidate from now until December, with a focus on their private lives.

Hillary Diane Rodham was born Oct. 26, 1947, in Chicago. Her father, Hugh Ellsworth Rodham, owned a textile business and her mother Dorothy Emma Howell, was a homemaker.

Her parents made a home for Clinton and her younger brothers, Hugh and Tony, in a middle-class suburb called Park Ridge.

"[Park Ridge] was an all-white suburb. I lived three blocks from my elementary school, so I walked home for lunch every day," she said.

Clinton described herself as "a pretty ordinary kid" in a "safe, secure and predictable world." Her upbringing, she said, was a combination of "Father Knows Best," "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Leave It to Beaver."

The Rodham household was politically conservative but straddled both parties, with her father being a Republican and her mother, a Democrat. Clinton would later characterize her own nature as "a mind conservative and a heart liberal."

When Clinton was 14, she did an eighth-grade science project on space medicine and decided she wanted to be an astronaut.

"I wrote NASA and said, 'What do you have to do to become an astronaut?'" Clinton told Gibson. "That was my question. I wanted to prepare myself."

NASA's response left Clinton both surprised and crestfallen.

"They said, 'Be a man.' They said, 'We're not accepting girls.' And I was crushed. I couldn't believe it," Clinton recalled, "To have my government tell me that there was something I couldn't do because I was a girl was shocking to me."

Instead, Clinton began reaching for the political stars. At the age of 13, she helped canvass the south side of Chicago in the 1960 elections and later volunteered for Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.

"My best friend and I became quote 'Goldwater Girls,' Clinton said. "We got to wear cowboy hats. We had a sash that said, you know, I voted AUH2O. I mean, it was really a lot of fun."

But it was more than fun that drove Clinton to the Republican camp.

"Medicare and Medicaid was a big part of [Goldwater's] platform, or the civil rights law -- maybe it's not such a bad idea, to kind of require that people treat each other in a civil way," Clinton said of her thinking and political leanings as a teenager.

In 1965, Clinton graduated from high school and headed off to Wellesley College, where her political views and self-perception would take a drastic turn.

At Wellesley, Clinton majored in political science -- in and out of the classroom.

Though her activities displayed an unending energy and dogged gumption, Clinton considered quitting school her freshman year because she felt "totally out of place" and intimidated by the other more cosmopolitan students and the large college setting.

The star student struggled in her classes. To her embarrassment, her French teacher announced in front of the entire class, "Mademoiselle, your talents lie elsewhere."

She called her parents to tell them she wanted to quit school. Rather than coddle her, her mother responded, "Don't you dare," and both parents urged her to stay through the end of the year.

"And then I figured, well, since I have to stay for a year, I'd better throw myself into it," Clinton said.

During her first year of college, she became president of the Wellesley Young Republicans, though she later stepped down because of her views on the U.S. civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

"I got to college and, by the time I really started thinking hard about what I thought about a lot of issues, I realized I might not know what I was, but I couldn't claim to be a Republican," Clinton said.

After the death of Martin Luther King in 1968, Clinton threw her support behind Democrat Eugene McCarthy's anti-war campaign. She collaborated with Wellesley's black students to call for changes, such as recruiting more black students and faculty to the school.

She graduated with honors in political science and became the first Wellesley student to give a commencement speech at graduation.

She then headed off to travel and work her way across Alaska, washing dishes at Mount McKinley and sliming salmon at a fish-processing cannery in Valdez. Clinton would later quip on the David Letterman show that sliming fish was the best preparation she ever had for working in Washington.