Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and Bill Clinton LAW ’73 disagree on where they first met.
In her autobiography “Living History,” Hillary Clinton remembers Bill Clinton standing outside the Lillian Goldman Law Library and walking up to him. But Bill Clinton, in his memoir “My Life,” recounted that they were standing at opposite ends of “the long, narrow” library. The much talked-of encounter regained public attention when, in July, Bill Clinton referred to the meeting in his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
But a piece of correspondence between Bill Clinton and a former librarian at the Yale Law School — which was donated to the library a few years ago and is now kept in its rare book collection — suggests that he originally shared his wife’s account of their first meeting.
“I want to thank you for your ‘whimsical’ request. I was outside looking in. Hillary was inside and walked outside,” Bill Clinton wrote to then senior reference librarian Laura Orr-Waters on Oct. 20, 1992, two weeks before being elected president. “A statue marking the spot would be great!”
The library has not yet installed any plaque or exhibition related to the couple’s first encounter, said Fred Shapiro, associate librarian for collections and access services at the law library.
Shapiro, who started working at the library in 1987, recalled a special visit Hillary Clinton paid to the library on her daughter Chelsea Clinton’s campus tour two decades ago.
“I was walking out of the library, and saw that the woman working at the circulation desk had a big smile on her face. That was when I saw Hillary Clinton was there. I knew I had something I could talk to her about, which was asking where [she and Bill] met,” Shapiro said. The longtime librarian was so “entranced” by Hillary Clinton’s presence that he did not notice Chelsea Clinton nor the two secret agents who were standing around, he recalled.
When Hillary Clinton enrolled at the law school in the fall of 1969, she had already set herself apart from many of her classmates. For one, she was among only 27 women out of a class of 235 law students. Additionally, just a few months prior, she had been chosen by her classmates at Wellesley College to be the first student commencement speaker. Some of her comments about the Vietnam War in that speech were covered in the national media, and so, in some ways, Hillary Clinton’s reputation for advocacy arrived at Yale before she did.
Then at Yale, she gave her attention to another cause — children, working at the Yale Child Study Center during her second year. In a 2014 acceptance speech for the Yale Law School Award of Merit, Hillary Clinton said that she was given the opportunity to delve into children’s issues while working for the center. She accompanied doctors on pediatric rounds and saw the effects of child abuse and neglect firsthand. Although only a law student at the time, she was routinely asked by medical professionals if there was anything in the law to help protect children in dire circumstances. She also took on child abuse cases at the Yale New Haven Hospital.
“Much of what I believe, and much of what I have worked for at stake in this election, is directly related to my time at the Law School,” Hillary Clinton said in an October 1992 speech at Yale.
According to James Comer, professor of child psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center, Hillary Clinton’s experiences as a law student absolutely influenced the issues she tackled as a legislator.
“I’ve never before heard any president — or even any high-ranking legislative official — talk about child development the way that she does,” Comer said.
Hillary Clinton’s interest in child development was further strengthened during a year of postgraduate study at the center. There, she met Comer, whose work implementing principles of child development in Connecticut schools was just beginning to gain national recognition. Later, when, as first lady of Arkansas, Hillary Clinton advocated for children’s rights, she and Comer met again during an assembly addressing child development.
“She remembered me because I was that new guy with those new ideas about child development,” Comer said.
It seems that today, because Hillary Clinton is a Democratic political figure, many Yale Law School professors “try not to politicize their classes” by mentioning her specifically, according to Helen Li LAW ’17. However, Li added that Hillary Clinton still remains a respected alumna of the school. Hillary Clinton was awarded the Yale Law School Award of Merit in 2014 during the school’s Alumni Weekend, during which she also celebrated her 40th law school reunion. In her acceptance speech, she underscored the impact that her time at Yale and the work she did here informed the course of her career.
As for Shapiro, his workplace holds significance both in the past and, maybe, the future.
“Working at Yale Law School, you are accustomed to the idea that important things have happened here and important people have studied and taught here,” Shapiro said. “If she wins the election, it will be not only one president, but two presidents meeting their future spouse here.”
Correction, Sept. 22: A previous version of this article misquoted librarian Fred Shapiro. In fact, he said he was “entranced” by Clinton.