Hillary Rodham senior thesis
In 1969, Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote a 92-page senior thesis for Wellesley College titled "There Is Only the Fight . . . ": An Analysis of the Alinsky Model. The subject was famed radical community organizer Saul Alinsky.
Rodham researched the thesis by interviewing Alinsky and others, and by conducting visits to low-income areas of Chicago (near where she grew up) and observing Community Action Programs in those areas. Her thesis adviser was Wellesley professor of political science Alan Schechter.
The thesis was generally sympathetic to Alinksy, but offered a critique of Alinsky's methods as largely ineffective, all the while describing Alinsky's personality as appealing. The thesis sought to fit Alinsky into a line of American social activists, including Eugene V. Debs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Walt Whitman. Written in formal academic language, the thesis concluded that "[Alinsky's] power/conflict model is rendered inapplicable by existing social conflicts" and that Alinsky's model had not expanded nationally due to "the anachronistic nature of small autonomous conflict."
In the acknowledgements and end notes of the thesis, Rodham thanked Alinsky for two interviews and a job offer. She declined the latter, saying that "after spending a year trying to make sense out of [Alinsky's] inconsistency, I need three years of legal rigor." The thesis was praised by all four of its reviewers and Rodham, an honors student at Wellesley, received an A grade on it. She stayed in touch with Alinsky for the next several years and the two expressed regard for each other.
White House and Wellesley limiting of access
The work was unnoticed until Hillary Rodham Clinton entered the White House as First Lady. Clinton researchers and political opponents sought out the thesis, thinking it contained evidence that Rodham had held strong radical or socialist views.
In early 1993, the White House requested that Wellesley not release the thesis to anyone. Wellesley complied, instituting a new rule that closed access to the thesis of any sitting U.S. president or first lady, a rule that in practice applied only to Rodham. Biographer Donnie Radcliffe instead used extensive recollections from Schechter in order to describe the thesis in her biography published later that year, Hillary Rodham Clinton : A First Lady for Our Time. David Brock was similarly unable to access the thesis for his 1996 book The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, writing that it was "under lock and key", and instead also used some of Schechter's recollections. By the mid-1990s, Clinton critics seized upon the restricted access as a sure sign that the thesis held politically explosive contents that would reveal her hidden radicalism or extremism.
Syndicated columnists Jack Anderson and Jan Moller tried to gain access to her thesis in 1999, but were rebuffed by both Wellesley and the White House. Writing in their "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column, they surmised that the thesis's conclusion might be at variance with Clinton administration policies, saying they had "discovered the subject of her thesis: a criticism of Lyndon B. Johnson's 'War on Poverty' programs. Mrs. Clinton's conclusion? Community-based anti-poverty programs don't work." Clinton biographer Barbara Olson wrote in her 1999 book Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton that, "The contents of Hillary's thesis, and why she would want it hidden from public view, have long been the subject of intense interest. Most likely, she does not want the American people to know the extent to which she internalized and assimilated the beliefs and methods of Saul Alinsky."
In her 2003 memoir Living History, Clinton mentioned the thesis only briefly, saying she had agreed with some of Alinsky's ideas, but had not agreed with his belief that it was impossible to "change the system" from inside.
Years after the Clintons left the White House, the mystery thesis held its allure. For example, in 2005, columnist Peggy Noonan wrote that it was "the Rosetta Stone of Hillary studies . . . [which] Wellesley College obligingly continues to suppress on her request." Clinton staffers still did not discuss why it had been sealed.
In fact, however, the thesis had been unlocked after the Clintons left the White House in 2001 and is available for reading at the Wellesley College archives. In 2005, msnbc.com investigative reporter Bill Dedman sent his journalism class from Boston University to read the thesis and write articles about it; one of the students, Rick Heller, posted his article online in December 2005. The thesis is also available through interlibrary loan on microfilm, a method reporter Dorian Davis used when he obtained it in January 2007, and sent it to Noonan and to Clinton critic Amanda Carpenter at Human Events, who wrote a piece on it in March. Although publishing the thesis violates copyright, it can nevertheless be found on various websites.
The suppression of the thesis from 1993 to 2001 at the request of the Clinton White House was documented in March 2007 by reporter Dedman, who read the thesis at the Wellesley library and interviewed Rodham's thesis adviser. Dedman found that the thesis did not disclose much of Rodham's own views. A Boston Globe assessment found the thesis nuanced, and said that "While [Rodham] defends Alinsky, she is also dispassionate, disappointed, and amused by his divisive methods and dogmatic ideology." Schechter told msnbc.com that "There Is Only The Fight . . ." was a good thesis, and that its suppression by the Clinton White House "was a stupid political decision, obviously, at the time."
Interest in the thesis and in Clinton's relationship with Alinsky continued during the Democratic Party presidential primaries, 2008, as Clinton battled Barack Obama, who had also been reported to have been exposed to Alinsky-style ideas and methods during his time as a Chicago community organizer. Interest was renewed again in 2014 with the discovery of correspondence from 1971 between Hillary Clinton and Alinsky at the University of Texas at Austin. Alana Goodman of The Washington Free Beacon interpreted the letters as suggesting that Alinsky, who died in 1972, had a deeper influence on Clinton's early political views than the thesis had stated.
- Carl Bernstein, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Knopf, 2007, ISBN 0-375-40766-9, p. 57.
- Bill Dedman, "How the Clintons wrapped up Hillary's thesis", msnbc.com, March 2, 2007. Accessed March 3, 2007.
- Alana Goodman, "The Hillary Letters", The Washington Free Beacon, September 21, 2014. Accessed August 10, 2015.
- Bill Dedman, "Reading Hillary Rodham's hidden thesis", msnbc.com, March 2, 2007. Accessed March 3, 2007.
- Peter Slevin, "For Clinton and Obama, a Common Ideological Touchstone", The Washington Post, March 25, 2007. Accessed August 10, 2015.
- Donnie Radcliffe, Hillary Rodham Clinton : A First Lady for Our Time. Warner Books, 1993, ISBN 0-446-51766-6, p. 77.
- David Brock, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. Free Press, 1996, ISBN 0-684-83451-0, p. 17.
- Michael Levenson, "A student's words, a candidate's struggle", The Boston Globe, March 4, 2007. Accessed July 14, 2007.
- Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, Jr., Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Little, Brown and Co., 2007, ISBN 0-316-01742-6, p. 33.
- Jack Anderson and Jan Moller, "Hillary's College Thesis Off-limits", Washington Merry-Go-Round, United Features Syndicate, The Hour (Norwalk, Connecticut), March 9, 1999, page A12.
- Barbara Olson, Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Regnery Publishing, 1999, ISBN 0-89526-197-9, pp. 45–46.
- Hillary Rodham Clinton, Living History. Simon & Schuster, 2003, ISBN 0-7432-2224-5, p. 38.
- Peggy Noonan, "Eine Kleine Biographie", The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2005. Accessed March 3, 2007.
- Available there for public viewing, but not dissemination on the Internet, due to copyright restrictions.
- Rick Heller, "Hillary Clinton's Bachelor's Thesis", Centerfield Blog, December 19, 2005. Accessed July 9, 2008. Archived June 14, 2011.
- "Hillary's Wellesley Thesis Shows Want of An Enemy", Human Events, March 9, 2007