During a final stop on a book tour promoting “The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience” (Simon and Schuster), Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton–in a discussion moderated by Vanessa Williams–addressed everything from Donald Trump’s impeachment to the role faith plays in their lives to several of the role models their co-authored book portrays.
Story/Photos by Grace Bennett
Pleasantville, NY, December 18–Excitement at Pace University was palpable both inside the sprawling Goldstein Fitness sports arena and afterwards too when staff and volunteers from both Pace and the Chappaqua Library (from where the event had been moved following a weather-related cancellation to the library weeks earlier) were all smiles helping attendees, from groups of Pace University students to hundreds of Westchester residents, pick up their copies of Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton’s ‘Book of Gutsy Women.’
Before introducing Vanessa Williams to the stage to moderate a discussion with Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, Pace University President Marvin Krislov, noted that Pace has been co-educational since its founding 100 years ago. “We’ve educated many gutsy women of our own,” he noted, mentioning a host of Pace graduates and impressive ‘firsts’ including: Lillian F. Anstie and Charlotte Osann, among the first women to pass the CPA exam in New York; Florentine Goodrich, appointed first treasurer of the Tennessee Valley Authority; Dr. Susan Merritt, founding dean of Pace’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems; and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins—with two degrees from Pace: the first person of color, and the first woman, to lead a legislative chamber in New York. His final mention, to much applause, was of recent Pace grad Sydney Mesher, “who was born without a left hand, and became the first-ever Radio City Rockette with a visible disability.”
Krislov then invited everyone to welcome Vanessa Williams, “a multi-platinum recording artist… a star of television, film and the Broadway stage, and a lifelong resident of Westchester County.”
Vanessa Williams described The Book of Gutsy Women as Hillary and Chelsea’s portrayal of more than 100 women (103, it was later noted) who have inspired them throughout their lives (Chelsea described the challenge for she and her mom to pare the book down from at least 200 women they had hoped to include).
“They are fascinating profiles and also a playbook for anyone looking for courage… for their own gutsy life,” said Williams. “It is full of personal reflection filled with anecdotes from a mother and a daughter from two different generations but who share a lot in common.”
She introduced Chelsea as “a champion for girls and women, advocacy, writing, and work at the Clinton Foundation, and adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.” She introduced Hillary as “the first woman in U.S. history to history to become a major party’s presidential nominee,” also outlining her key roles in public service, and her roles as “also a wife, mother and proud grandmother.”
After that, reading the audience correctly on the night of historic deliberations, Vanessa Williams launched into a question about the impending impeachment of Donald Trump.
Vanessa Williams: “…What do you think is going to happen to Donald Trump?”
Hillary Clinton: “Well, let’s just jump right in!”
But first she thanked Pace University, the Chappaqua Library, “Pam (Pamela Thornton), who keeps the Library going”, Scattered Books, “our local store in Chappaqua,” Barnes and Noble on the Pace campus-and Vanessa Williams: “She’s local, she’s Westchester, she’s Chappaqua… but talk about a gutsy woman!…”
And then it was on to the impeachment proceedings:
Hillary said: “I have to say I thought Nancy Pelosi did a really extraordinary job… of delivering a somber, deliberative debate about whether or not the impeachment clause in our Constitution should be applied to our current president…”
She explained that “way back in 1974, she had been on the staff that investigated President Nixon, and able to watch the debate that took place in the House Judiciary Committee then. One of the members of Congress, in particular, who summed up what was at stake was Barbara Jordan, and she delivered, one of the great speeches of the last 100 years. I remember being taken and moved by the seriousness by all the members of Congress to the point when the Judiciary committee voted and Republican House members had voted for at least one of the articles of impeachment, putting country over party..”
At another juncture, Hillary added that Senator Mitch McConnell will aim for an acquittal but also noted “that many in the polls are in favor of conviction…While I don’t think that’s likely with the current state of affairs at least it shows that the American people have really understood why this is such an important moment in our history.”
Throughout the book tour for The Book of Gutsy Women, Hillary and Chelsea shared memories of the women who had the most profound impact on their lives and life choices. Chelsea referred to Geraldine (Gerry) Ferraro, and her historic nomination as a first woman vice president on a Democrat ticket, and of her mom “taking me to see her…. getting all dressed up… and what a big moment that was.”
The mother/daughter co-authors discussed the big gap in women role models between their generations with Hillary noting that she “didn’t know any women who worked outside the home except for my teachers and librarians. I was constantly looking for other ideas of what women could do.”
She described her upbringing as a typical post World War II experience in an outside of Chicago ‘hood. Her mother, Hillary said, was “intent on opening my eyes and expanding my horizons.”
A popular comic book character of the day had made a huge impression on Hillary: Brenda Starr was amazing… she had this flaming red hair, she was an international correspondent who fell in love with the guy with the eye patch. It was so romantic, and exotic.”
Hillary mentioned other larger than life influences, including Anne Frank, Helen Keller… “women i met in the pages of Life magazine…,” she said. “Not many women were held up as heroic figures in elementary school… maybe Joan of Arc and Queen Elizabeth.”
In stark contrast, she added, “most of Chelsea’s friends mothers worked… an interesting distinction.”
Chelsea referred to her pediatrician, a woman, and hardly the only women in her life who were powerful figures and role models. “It was an entirely different world for me to grow up in.”
At one point, Hillary Clinton asked Vanessa Williams, after referring to her as a “pathfinder” and “pioneer” who her own role model was. “Who did you look up to?”
“The support of my parents for sure,” Williams said, noting her mother’s presence (Helen Williams) in the audience too. “She told me you are going to have to do better than everyone else just to be considered equal. I knew in a white environment, I had to be excellent… as a Girl Scout, in a marching band, choir, theater… I did all those things to be a multi-talented performer to allow me the skill set to achieve things.”
Williams also mentioned ‘trailblazers’ including Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll “who I had the luxury of working with in my lifetime” and who had “opened the door” for her.
Next it was on to a discussion of the critical influence of faith in both Hillary and Chelsea’s lives.
Hillary: “Having faith that connects me to a larger world is an instrumental part of understanding who I am. It is a source of resilience to know that you can be knocked down, but you can get back up, to know that love is the most powerful force of the universe.”
She noted being lucky that her parents “set high expectations but were there for me unconditionally” and mentioned “ a great minister” who took me to see Martin Luther King, Jr. when i was in junior high school, opening my eyes and my mind in ways that i have never imagined.” Hillary said she linked that to her faith: “how you’re supposed to be, how you’re supposed to treat other people… it became major motivator in my life.”
“A lot of the women in the book are women who have been knocked down, marginalized, who have been criticized, beaten, sometimes brutally for what they believe, terribly assaulted, left to die, exiled, or been in prison. The common characteristic they hung on to is their faith, not just in faith in themselves…” but more, she elaborated that they “were part of something bigger and greater than themselves… “they were part of greater sense of possibility and hopefulness.”
“It’s hard to keep going in face of all sorts of challenges unless you can dig deep down and think I really have to do this because it really will help someone else because it really will make a difference.”
Chelsea tied a die-hard optimism she said she teaches her children to her own faith and emphasized that “optimism is a moral choice: you have to make a moral choice to be optimistic… that the forces of darkness I believe are relying on us to become exhausted, less optimistic and to lose our faith.”
“That connects me more to my faith, to my journey and gets my determination going to get up every day to do whatever I can for our world and for our shared community,” Chelsea said.
Both mother and daughter weighed in on the voter registration controversy in Georgia. Chelsea offered: “Stacey Abrams has been so gutsy and extraordinary in how she dealt with her I think illegitimate defeat but also with what she is building through her organization ‘Fair Fight Action’ to help ensure that the right to vote is protected in Georgia. Look at what she is doing and learn from what she’s doing and see if you can support her in Georgia and how to expand it outward and extend it throughout the country.”
The women in the book are not all political figures, but all historical figures who have made a difference, whether social activists, writers, Olympians…or scientists.
Vanessa Williams asked about including astronaut Sally Rider in Gutsy Women, first commenting: “She started as a tennis player… before she was an astronaut. When asked why she decide to become a scientist, she answered: ‘a bad forehand.’”
Hillary explained that Sally Rider had been one of Chelsea’s heroes growing up, and that the Clintons had sent her to Space Camp as a young girl “because she was fascinated by space and astronauts. That was poignant to me because when President Kennedy had announced the Space program, I had written to Nassau, and asked how I can get to be an astronaut, and they wrote back: ‘Sorry we are not taking girls.’”
Chelsea, for her part, said that during the first time she met Sally Rider (at Space Camp graduation!), she “was so overwhelmed that I tripped over my own feet and fell in front of her… mortified, was 12 or 13, and turned a beet red, but she could not have been nicer to me.” But most importantly, Chelsea noted Riders advocacy for young girls in science, and Rider making efforts throughout her busy career to nurture that.
In the course of a little over an hour, the discussion ran the gamut, from the Howard Stern interview, the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, and a defense of Title IX and health care. A handful of audience questions were posed including a nine year old boy’s question about their favorite baseball teams. Chelsea: The Eagles (“because marriage requires compromise”), and Hillary: the Yankees (because she’s a New Yorker now).
Grace Bennett, Publisher and Editor of the Inside Press, appreciates gutsy women, too.