When Hillary Clinton was a junior in high school in 1964, she ran for class president. No girl had ever been elected to the position—girls were always elected secretary—and one of her classmates told her she was “really stupid” if she thought a girl could be class president.
This anecdote has been retold countless times during this election season because it encapsulates how far we’ve come as a country in Clinton’s lifetime. No one understands that shift better than women Clinton’s age, who were expected to hew to oppressive gender roles when they were younger and benefited as society become gradually more accepting of women in positions of power.
In the weeks heading into an election that Clinton is favored to win, I spoke with seven women—including my mom, Constance Anderson—who were born within a year of Clinton, who turned 69 on Oct. 26. I asked them how they felt about Clinton personally and about the ways they’ve seen opportunities change for women in their lifetimes. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Anne Onion, 68
Retired school counselor
Gilmanton, New Hampshire
I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. I think that’s in part because I felt that we needed to have a change from families who have been in power for so long. But way back when Bill was president and Hillary was spearheading healthcare reform, I could see that she was a very capable person. And it was very frustrating to me back then for people to criticize her for having dared to put her finger in the pie.
I just was visiting with somebody in my town a few weeks back who’s older than I am. We were talking about the election a little bit, and she said, “Oh I’m not really even sure yet that women can do this job.” That really took me aback, because as a child of the ’60s, I do have confidence.
Like Hillary, I went to college in the fall of 1965. All the rules were gender-biased: Women had curfews, we had to wear skirts to class and to the dining hall, we couldn’t have men in the dorm, you had to have written permission from your parents to leave the campus on the weekend, you couldn’t have a car until you were a senior. By the time I graduated, all those rules had changed. And in that span of time, the women’s lib movement really got started. In a way, we went to school under one set of premises and came out in a whole new world.
Vicki Williams, 69
Retired teacher and educational research director
Greensboro, North Carolina*
I do not like anything about her. But I don’t like anything about Trump either. I find Hillary to be very deceptive. I don’t trust her. Bill’s affairs and her accepting of them—that bothered me, because for a strong woman, I felt like she would stand up for herself. Maybe it’s because she had a bigger goal in sight, and she couldn’t do it without that connection. I don’t know. But that did it. And then of course all of her dishonesties in her foundation and her emails.
I am always impressed by women my age who have really gone above and beyond, because in high school we were not encouraged. The guidance counselor asked if I wanted to be a secretary, a teacher, or a nurse. That was the mentality at the time. One of my classmates went on to be a doctor, and she was just very out there—you know, my God, a doctor. I am happy that the world has opened up and is accepting of a woman president. That’s fantastic. I just wish we had a better choice.
Joanna Caplan, 68
Marketing and Democratic political consultant
I came to D.C. in 1976 to work for the Democratic National Committee, and then I worked on the transition for Carter and I went to the White House for a few months, and then I worked with the State Department and did some lobbying. I’ve been around a while.
My view of Hillary is basically: She’s earned the presidency. She is the most formidable serious public servant we’ve had in my lifetime. And to me she is a woman’s woman. Every man fears her, I think, because basically most men want their mom at home. They just can’t stand the fact that a woman can raise a great daughter and be a grandmother and withstand Monica Lewinsky, the healthcare fiasco, become senator of the state of New York, survive Benghazi, survive all of the low blows of her husband, and be better than most of us. I just think men can’t stand it. And even the women who are having a hard time voting for her, they can’t stand it either, because we can’t quite measure up.
Hillary has been beaten down, time after time and keeps coming back like a prizefighter. She’s dominant, and she’s not afraid to be successful, and she’s OK when she fails because she’s willing to come back slugging,
I expect on Jan. 20, 2017 to go, “Oh my god.” It’s kind of like my gay friends who have gotten married since the Supreme Court decision: “Oh my god, I’m 50 years old, I never thought I’d get to see this, I never thought I’d get to say to my boys, I can actually marry your father.” She’s very aware, I believe, of her place in history, and I think it’s served her well. I just want her to get there, and I want all of us to rise up and heave a deep sigh of relief and say, “Go forward, you have our blessing and our support.” I think we’ll have turned the corner on the Mitch McConnells of the world and the white boys of the Senate who want to go back to the good old days of 25 years ago. They know that their time is running out.
Constance Anderson, 68
Retired technical writer, teacher, and copy editor
Ellicott City, Maryland
I think that she’ll be a competent and maybe even a wonderful president. I just think it’ll be hard. I mean, even if she is elected, there seems to be so much struggle that we still have to go through.
I heard her speak in Austin at the Frank Erwin Center in the early ’90s. It was a really big crowd, a lot of students. I remember how impressed I was at how well she spoke, how relaxed she seemed, how clearly she could articulate her ideas, and I remember afterwards saying to my husband, “She should be running.” Sometime after that, there was a profile of her in the New Yorker that was very unflattering. She came across as a control freak who liked to work behind the scenes and a very manipulative person, and at that point I got a negative feeling about her.
It has been a surprise to find out how many people have a real problem with a woman running for president, apparently. My husband said at one point that he hoped Hillary would choose Elizabeth Warren as her running mate, and I said, “Oh yeah, then we’d really get to see how much misogyny there is in this country.” I thought that would not be a good plan at all. There are just so many unhappy people out there. They were unhappy with the first African-American president and they want to go back to the way things have always been.
Ann Friedlander, 68
West Palm Beach, Florida
There could have been other, better candidates. Not females, maybe. And I think the next election will be much more interesting, because there are people in the wings who will run. But this was more or less: She has the experience, and she’s not an asshole. I couldn’t stand Trump from the beginning. I was always a teacher, and to me he was always a bully. How can you teach your children to respect a bully? I have eight grandchildren, and I would never use him as an example. There was no way that I was ever thinking of voting for him.
Penny Burgett, 69
Retired office worker
Mountain View, Arkansas
Friends who have met her in person tell me of a very warm Hillary. All I know is what I’ve seen on TV. I think she has issues. She has made some not great choices, and in my opinion, her tendency to hold things close to the chest is her biggest problem.
There are people in Arkansas who don’t like her, and I don’t know why, because she did good things for the educational system here, she and Bill. Education is the key to whatever you want to be, and the Clintons did a remarkable job bringing the local schools up to a higher standard.
I live in an area where there are men who think women should not be in charge over men. These men would never vote for Hillary for president because she’s not a man. But I think it’ll be a really excellent thing, like when Obama was elected, especially for younger girls who are aspiring to go into politics.
Madeline Karpel, 69
Retired clinical social worker
I feel a lot of admiration for her intelligence and her articulateness, her tenacity and resoluteness and energy. I feel a kind of vicarious pride in her as an older woman who’s achieving a lot. And I feel some hopefulness for younger women like my daughter. I feel cautiously optimistic about her ability to change things.
*Correction, Nov. 7, 2016: This post originally misstated Vicki Williams’ current place of residence as Clinton, Maryland. Williams lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.