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Hillary Rodham Clinton's mother Dorothy dies at 92: Her Chicago story

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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.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 2, 2011 1:00 AM.

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