Obstacles Hillary Clinton Had To Overcome To Get To Where She Is

From First Lady to Secretary of State, Senator to  two-time presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton has had quite a varied political career. While she currently does not hold political office (via Oprah Daily), she has never been busier. In 2017, she published "What Happened" — a book about the campaign, followed by the founding of the political action committee Onward Together. In 2019, Clinton and her daughter Chelsea Clinton published a collection of essays about the women who inspired them, which was later turned into a series for Apple TV+ in addition to her podcast "You and Me Both," launched in 2020.

As Clinton wrote in her 2003 memoir "Living History," she has lived a life that her grandparents and parents could have never dreamed of (via PBS American Experience). "But they bestowed on me the promise of America, which made my life and my choices possible," she penned.

Described by Pew Research as the "comeback kid," Clinton has faced many obstacles to get where she is today. Below are just some of the major roadblocks the former first lady cleared to become one of America's most recognized and successful politicians.

Hillary Clinton wanted to become an astronaut when she was a child

Hillary Clinton grew up in Chicago, within a middle-class family (via The Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton). She helped with her father's small business and was inspired by her mother's hardship — she was abandoned as a young child. It gave Clinton the drive to fight for, support, and help children.

When she was young, Clinton wanted to become an astronaut. She shared this dream during a 2012 speech celebrating the life and work of Amelia Earheart (via The Washington Post). At 13, she wrote to NASA asking what was needed of her to achieve this dream, but "NASA wrote back and said there would not be any women astronauts." Clinton said she was "crestfallen," adding in her 2003 memoir "Living History" that the letter was "infuriating." During another speech in 2009, Clinton revealed (per The Washington Post) that while she "could never have qualified" as an astronaut, she had been "thrilled to see young women follow that dream."

Clinton found her footing in law, having been one of 27 women in her class at Yale Law School, according to The Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton. But it wasn't easy to achieve this. "When I was a young woman, there were colleges I couldn't go to . . . scholarships I couldn't apply for . . . jobs I could've never gotten," she told BBC. "There were just so many obstacles. It was something that I found deeply distressing."

Clinton changed the way her law firm viewed pregnancy

While studying at Yale Law School, Hillary Rodham met Bill Clinton. They married in 1975, but she initially didn't take her husband's last name (via The History Channel). Eventually, she "learned the hard way that some voters in Arkansas were seriously offended by the fact that I kept my maiden name," as Clinton wrote in her 2003 memoir "Living History." According to Bustle, she often interchanged her maiden and married name to gain favor with voters.

A year before Bill became the Governor of Arkansas, Hillary joined the Rose Law Firm, becoming their first female associate and then their first partner (per The Wall Street Journal). During her 15-year tenure there, she also served on the board of several organizations and corporations, including Wal-Mart, becoming the first female member on their board (via PBS American Experience).

Clinton gave birth to her daughter, Chelsea, while working at the Rose Law Firm. Her pregnancy became somewhat of an issue, however. As she explained in a speech while secretary of state in 2012 (via ABC News) "they literally just were not sure what to do with me." While in hospital, she inadvertently created the "firm's first-ever maternity policy" after receiving a phone call from a co-worker about when she'd be returning to work.

She became a very outspoken First Lady of the United States

Before Bill Clinton became President of the United States, Hillary Clinton faced her first controversy in 1992 when people criticized her for working while her husband ran for office. "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life," she said (via The New York Times).

When Hillary Clinton became the First Lady of the United States in 1993, she was the first to enter the White House with a postgraduate degree and a professional career. She also became the first to have an office in the West Wing (via PBS American Experience). Clinton was subsequently appointed to head the Task Force on National Health Care Reform by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. While this position wasn't as successful as she may have hoped, Clinton reportedly put that down to "political inexperience."

In 1994, she helped create the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, according to PBS American Experience. During a trip to Beijing, Clinton led the U.S. delegation at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, "despite being told by some officials not to go," noted The Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton. At this event, she declared during a speech that "human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights once and for all."

Clinton faced many controversies while in the White House

During her time in office, Hillary Clinton faced numerous scandals. The first was dubbed The Whitewater Scandal, which related to a real estate development company in which the Clintons were involved prior to his presidency (via NPR). While some associates of Bill Clinton were indicted on charges relating to "fraud and other financial misleading", as UnitedStatesNow explained, he and Hillary were never formally charged. Despite this, the scandal followed them into the White House. According to a Pew Research survey in 1996, the top words to describe Hillary at the time were "strong" and "dishonest."

But the biggest obstacle Hillary had to overcome as First Lady was the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In the four-part Hulu documentary "Hillary" (via YouTube), she explained that while she was "personally just hurt" by her husband's actions, she "defended and stood by him" because she thought the subsequent impeachment process "was wrong. But that wasn't the necessary answer to what I would do with my marriage." So instead, they went through counseling to save it (per The Guardian) which Bill described as "one of the hardest things [he] ever did."

While promoting her Apple TV+ series "Gutsy" with her daughter Chelsea, Hillary described staying in her marriage as "the gutsiest thing" she ever did. "It was not easy, and it was something that only I could decide."

The former First Lady ran a presidential campaign twice

Before leaving the White House in 2001, Hillary Clinton was elected as United States Senator from New York (via The White House). She unsuccessfully ran for president for the first time in 2008, losing the Democratic Party nomination to Barack Obama. When President Obama took office in 2009, he appointed Clinton as secretary of state, marking her return to the White House. Clinton once again attempted to run for president in 2016, in which she successfully won the Democratic Party nomination but lost the presidency to Donald Trump (per NBC News). During this second presidential run, Clinton faced even more controversy, this time regarding her use of one server for both her private and personal emails when she was secretary of state, according to BBC News.

Clinton's continued attempts to become the first female President of the United States gained her respect from women across the country, including Peggy Clark, the Vice President of Policy Programs at the Asper Institute. "When some see Hillary as hard-edged or tough, I see a woman who has had to morph from a head-banded wife of a southern governor to the leading diplomat of the world's only superpower," she said. Acknowledging "her intellect, composure, warmth, focus, determination . . . [and] brilliance," Clark concluded that "we women still have to play so many roles and struggle with how to hold and wield power in a world that feels very uncomfortable with us having it."

Hillary Clinton hopes she has paved the way for young women

As Time noted, Hillary Clinton has had a "varied experience" as a politician. And while her experience would have suited the role of the first female President of the United States, University of Texas history professor Jeremi Suri told Spectrum News 1 that "male toughness, especially for an office like Presidency, comes across as being commanding, female toughness across as off-putting, nasty."

Despite the strides in feminism in American politics, with Kamala Harris becoming the first female Vice President of the United States in 2021 (via The History Channel), Clinton is aware that further work is still needed. "I think my story, like the stories of so many women of my time, is as inspiring as any other — and it really is the story of a revolution," Clinton told Time in 2017, adding that she wanted her presidential campaign "to have helped pave the way for young women who come behind me. Because even though we didn't win, we made the sight of a woman nominee more familiar, and we brought the possibility of a woman president closer."