No matter your political leanings, Hillary Clinton is a polarizing figure. Some see her as the world leader that could have been after her failed bid for the presidency. Others see her as a figure mired in decades-old controversies.
However, this is only the Hillary Clinton that you see on the surface. Dig a little deeper and you will discover more to her story (both good and bad) than you could ever imagine. And like current first lady Melania Trump, there is more to Hillary than meets the eye.
Here, then, are 20 surprising facts we bet you never knew about Hillary Clinton.
Making a splash at college
Hillary went to Wellesley College for undergrad and was eventually elected senior class president. She ended up becoming the college’s first student commencement speaker, receiving a standing ovation that lasted for seven minutes. This landed her in Life Magazine and was arguably the beginning of her national fame.
Hillary Clinton is one the most famous (and infamous) Democrats in history. However, she was an active Republican in her youth who went as far as to campaign for Barry Goldwater. Eventually, disillusionment with the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon drove her away from the party.
Shot down by NASA
Hillary the… astronaut? The former Secretary of State wrote to NASA when she was a little girl, asking how she could become an astronaut. NASA wrote back that girls could not be astronauts. She reached for the stars anyway.
Tried to join the Marines
In 1975, Hillary tried to join the Marines. A very blunt Marine recruiter told her she could not join due to her age, her vision… and, of course, because she was a woman.
Went to Yale after a Harvard professor made sexist remarks
After Wellesley, Hillary eventually got into both Harvard and Yale Law School. A friend introduced her to a Harvard law professor and said, “She’s trying to decide between us and our nearest competitor.”
The professor responded, “First of all, we have no nearest competitor, and secondly, we don’t need any more women.” Needless to say, Hillary ended up choosing Yale.
Making the first move
Bill and Hillary Clinton enjoyed a very unconventional romance. And Hillary actually made the first move when she saw Bill repeatedly staring at her. She got up, walked over, and said, “If you keep looking at me, and I’m going to keep looking back, we might as well be introduced. I’m Hillary Rodham.”
Worked in an Alaskan fish processing plant
Before law school, Hillary worked at a fish processing plant in Alaska. Her job was to slime the fish, but when she complained about the unhealthy conditions for workers, she got fired. However, she got the last laugh when the plant shut down.
Failed the bar exam
Much of Hillary’s professional career is built on her experiences as a lawyer. However, she actually failed an important bar exam in Washington, D.C. She passed the bar in Arkansas, though, and that’s where she began practicing law.
Outearned her husband
You might imagine that Bill Clinton was the primary breadwinner in their marriage. However, Hillary was bringing in $100,000 a year from her law firm back when Bill was only making $35,000 per year as the governor of Arkansas. In many ways, she helped pave the way for future female lawyers such as Michelle Obama.
The ‘butt’ of the joke
As you might imagine, Bill Clinton has a weird sense of humor. In one of Hillary’s first jury trials, she represented a canning company whose can allegedly had the bottom half of a rat in it. She won the case, but Bill relentlessly teased her about what he called her “rat’s ass” case.
Marriage of convenience?
Over the years, many speculated that Bill and Hillary stayed married more out of political convenience that passion or love. Bill seemingly confirmed this in a 2004 interview with Terry Gross when he compared their marriage to that of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt. The latter lived under the same roof but basically lived separate lives after Eleanor discovered FDR’s affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherford.
Coining a rightwing phrase
You’ve probably seen conservatives mockingly use the phrase “vast rightwing conspiracy.” But did you know Hillary coined this phrase? This was how she initially dismissed allegations about Bill’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. The phrase became such an ironic hit among rightwingers that Rush Limbaugh nicknamed his fans “The Vast Rightwing Conspiracy.”
Weird legal legacies
One of Clinton’s more dubious honors is that she is the only first lady to ever get subpoenaed thanks to her husband’s Whitewater controversy. Afterward, she became the only first lady to get deposed in criminal and civil investigations. Thanks to investigations into Bill Clinton, the two were even fingerprinted by the FBI, something which happened to no other first couple.
Hounded by conspiracy theories
In 1993, Vice Deputy White House Council Vince Foster committed suicide. For reasons unknown, Hillary Clinton’s staff removed several files from his office before the FBI arrived on the scene. This, of course, led to conspiracy theories that have dogged Clinton to this day.
Silencing the chef
A year after the Vince Foster controversy, Hillary encouraged Pierre Chambrin, the White House chef, to resign. To sweeten the deal, she gave him $37,026 on the condition that he say nothing about either his dismissal or the Clintons. Congress questioned the move, which looked like nothing short of a payoff for his silence.
A history of firsts
One of the reasons Hillary is often viewed as a feminist hero is that she has obtained many groundbreaking “firsts” for women. She was the first student commencement speaker at Wellesley College. She was the first woman to be made a partner of Rose Law Firm. She was the first First Lady to hold a postgraduate degree (from Yale Law). She was the first First Lady to run for Senate. She was the first woman elected to the New York Senate.
Most importantly of all, she was the first woman to run for president as a major party’s nominee. And she was also the first woman presidential candidate to win the popular vote.
Worried about appearing ‘feminine’ when running for president
Did you know that Clinton carefully cultivates her image? She backed out of a 2007 Vogue photoshoot because she didn’t want to look “feminine” ahead of the 2008 elections. And yes, we can only assume her famous proclivity for pantsuits is part of this deliberate image.
While Hillary has reliably rocked pantsuits for years, her daughter Chelsea Clinton has completely transformed her look.
Criticized for kissing Yasser Arafat’s wife
As she became more famous, more and more of Hillary’s life was scrutinized by the public. During her 1999 visit to the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, she kissed Yasser Arafat’s wife Suha on the cheek. Photos of this were criticized, but Hillary defended it as a matter of social graces.
While Hillary never had a Nixon-level controversy, she did experience major criticism after Bob Woodward revealed in a 1996 book that a certain tape existed. On this tape, she and her former mentor Jean Houston did a weird bit of roleplay where they imagined Hillary talking to her hero Eleanor Roosevelt. This was pretty mild compared to Bill’s many controversies, but it became known as “Wackygate” to her harshest critics.
Won a Grammy
Believe it or not, Hillary has a Grammy! It’s not for singing, though. Instead, it’s for Best Spoken Word Album for the audio version of her 1996 book It Takes A Village, in which she advocates for children.