Hillary Rodham Clinton is no stranger to Penn State. Her 2008 Democratic primary run brought her to Rec Hall back in 2008, she was the topic of Schreyer Honors College Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Dr. Nichola Gutgold’s 2009 book “Almost Madam President: Why Hillary Clinton ‘Won’ in 2008,”, and the Ready For Hillary tour bus made a stop in State College last summer. Clinton’s husband was the only person to ever successfully get two different flavors at the Creamery and spoke at the May 1996 graduate student commencement. Their daughter Chelsea has spoke on her mother’s behalf on the campaign trail on the HUB lawn back in 2008 as well.
But Hillary Rodham Clinton’s connections to Penn State date back to long, long before she or her husband got into politics. In fact, Clinton’s Penn State connection was established before she was even born. Both her father, and years later, her brother attended Penn State and played football for the Nittany Lions.
Clinton’s father was Hugh Ellsworth Rodham, born in 1911 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. A large man, Rodham was 6-foot-2 and weighed a hefty 230 pounds. He enrolled at Penn State in 1931, and joined the football team under then-head coach Bob Higgins. Though the media described him as a scholarship-funded football star during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign coverage — and he himself said he could have gone pro had it not been for a knee injury — university records show that he actually played as a third-string tight end (and that football scholarships didn’t exist while he was here).
Outside of football, Rodham was a brother of Delta Upsilon, and majored in Physical Education. He is referenced in a 1934-1935 Froth article making fun of prominent Penn State men called “A Study in Deflation” as having a “crude cave-man act” (whatever that means). Rodham’s yearbook page also cites him as a member of Friars, explained in La Vie as a sophomore society for men who have excelled in freshman athletics and plan to continue on in varsity sports.
Rodham graduated from Penn State in 1935 at the height of the Great Depression, and joined the industry his father worked in: textile sales. Today, the legacy of Clinton’s father lives on through the Hugh E. Rodham Memorial Scholarship in the College of Education, benefitting superior full-time undergraduate students.
Though Hillary Rodham Clinton chose Wellesley College as her undergraduate alma mater, her brother — also named Hugh Rodham — chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Penn State family himself in 1968. Books about the family note that “Hughie,” as the family affectionately called him, often sought the approval of his father, and tried to follow his path closely.
Hughie Rodham was a better athlete than his father, playing as backup quarterback for the Penn State under Joe Paterno. Beyond football, Hughie was a brother of Theta Delta Chi fraternity. Sadly, fewer records of his time at Penn State exist than his father. He graduated from Penn State in 1972 with a Bachelors of Science degree from the College of Health and Human Development, and went on to join the Peace Corps after graduation.
Though neither her father nor her brother have made frequent (if any) visits back to campus, Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea have visited Happy Valley a number of times, and we can surely expect to see more of them through the next campaign season. And although Hillary Rodham Clinton never attended Penn State herself, she can certainly be considered a part of the family, at least by relation. With two football players in her family, she’s a big Penn State fan. Bill Clinton once said that during his and Hillary’s Saturday morning phone calls during the Obama campaign she always asked, “Did Penn State win again?” Let’s hope that never changes.
Photo of Clinton at Rec Hall via Penn State News