H.R. Clinton’s Case

'Children Under the Law' (1974)

reprinted as the lead article in The Rights of Children, edited by Rochelle Beck and Heather Bastow Weiss
Harvard Educational Review Reprint Series, No. 9 pp.

'Children's Policies: Abandonment and Neglect'

Yale Law Journal, Vol. 86, No.7 pp.

'Children's Rights: A Legal Perspective'

in Children's Rights: Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Patricia A. Vardin and Ilene N. Brody
Teacher's College Press

'Teacher Education: Of the People, By the People, and For the People' on Teacher Education Policies, Practices, and Research

in Beyond the Looking Glass: Papers From a National Symposium
Center For Teacher Education, University of Texas

'The Healthy Development of Our Youth' Foundations, 1988

Keynote Address to the Atlanta Convention of Southeastern Council of

'A Bridge Over the Mississippi' Memphis State University, 1990 Kansas Work Force, 1991

Keynote Address to the Second Annual Urban Education Symposium at. Keynote Address to the Conference on Adult Basic Skills and the

Hillary and Bill Clinton
Hillary and Bill Clinton; drawing by David Levine

Millions of Americans were first exposed to Hillary Rodham Clinton as she sat loyally by her husband, Governor Bill Clinton, on Sixty Minutes. He was there to deny any liaison with the currently specified bimbo, though he conceded (indirectly) bimberies unspecified. His wife denied that she was like Tammy Wynette standing lachry-mosely by her man; yet that is exactly what she seemed at that humiliating moment. It would be a shame for people to continue thinking of her only in that role, since she is one of the more important scholar-activists of the last two decades. In 1988 and 1991, she was put on the list of America’s most powerful lawyers by The National Law Journal, in recognition of her membership on corporate boards and her record as senior partner at the prestigious Rose law firm in Little Park, where she has been an innovative litigator. In her fields of estate law, child custody, and children’s rights, she was, for instance, the first trial lawyer in Arkansas to conduct the examination by satellite of a witness in a hospital outside the state.

But Ms. Clinton’s record as a legal theorist and strategist is less recognized. Her academic record has been stellar (president of her class at Wellesley first student to speak at a Wellesley commencement, an editor of the Yale Law Journal, legal counsel on the Nixon impeachment staff of the House Judiciary Committee, professor of criminal law at the University of Arkansas). But what set her apart from other successful and scrambling lawyers was her attempt to undergird practical activity with legal theory. She had become involved with the Children’s Defense Fund after her graduation from Yale, and she deplored the ad hoc nature of reform efforts in a field where slogans and sentiment blunt responses to the right-wing defense of “family values” which tells the state, in effect, to “butt out” of what is the parent’s sphere of sole discretion.

In “Children Under the Law,” a 1974 essay for the Harvard Educational Review, she confronted that orthodoxy head on. Traditionally, children had been within what Blackstone called “the empire of the father,” a position in which the children’s very privileges came from their incapacity.1 Wives, too, were within that “empire”; but they have become competent legal persons in the modern world, while that has not happened to children. Children are legally incompetent by reason of the disabilities that were their source of privilege—e.g., to the right of maintenance. At a time when young men were apprenticed at seven, or put to work in the fields, and young women bore children shortly after menarche, the law of minors was mainly concerned with the passing on of estates in the propertied class. But the cultural “invention” of adolescence, the introduction of child labor laws, the lengthening of required or recommended periods of education, have, she writes, created…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.