In 1977, Rodham cofounded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, a state-level alliance with the Children’s Defense Fund. Later that year, President Jimmy Carter (for whom Rodham had been the 1976 campaign director of field operations in Indiana) appointed her to the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation, and she served in that capacity from 1978 until the end of 1981. From mid-1978 to mid-1980, she served as the chair of that board, the first woman to do so. During her time as chair, funding for the Corporation was expanded from $90 million to $300 million; subsequently she successfully fought President Ronald Reagan’s attempts to reduce the funding and change the nature of the organization.
Following her husband’s November 1978 election as Governor of Arkansas, Rodham became First Lady of Arkansas in January 1979, her title for twelve years (1979–1981, 1983–1992). Clinton appointed her chair of the Rural Health Advisory Committee the same year, where she successfully secured federal funds to expand medical facilities in Arkansas’s poorest areas without affecting doctors’ fees.
In 1979, Rodham became the first woman to be made a full partner of Rose Law Firm. From 1978 until they entered the White House, she had a higher salary than her husband. During 1978 and 1979, while looking to supplement their income, Rodham made a spectacular profit from trading cattle futures contracts; an initial $1,000 investment generated nearly $100,000 when she stopped trading after ten months. The couple also began their ill-fated investment in the Whitewater Development Corporation real estate venture with Jim and Susan McDougal at this time.
On February 27, 1980, Rodham gave birth to a daughter, Chelsea, her only child. In November 1980, Bill Clinton was defeated in his bid for reelection. Rodham began to use the name Hillary Clinton, during her husband’s campaign. As First Lady of Arkansas, Hillary Clinton was named chair of the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee in 1983, where she sought to reform the state’s court-sanctioned public education system. She fought a prolonged but ultimately successful battle against the Arkansas Education Association, to establish mandatory teacher testing and state standards for curriculum and classroom size. In 1985, she also introduced Arkansas’s Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth, a program that helps parents work with their children in preschool preparedness and literacy. She was named Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1983 and Arkansas Mother of the Year in 1984.
From 1982 to 1988, Clinton was on board of directors, sometimes as chair, of the New World Foundation, which funded a variety of New Left interest groups. From 1987 to 1991, she chaired the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. She was twice named by the National Law Journal as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America (1988 and 1991). Clinton served on the boards of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Legal Services (1988–1992) and the Children’s Defense Fund (as chair, 1986–1992). In addition to her positions with nonprofit organizations, she also held positions on the corporate board of directors of TCBY (1985–1992), Wal-Mart Stores (1986–1992) and Lafarge (1990–1992). TCBY and Wal-Mart were Arkansas-based companies that were also clients of Rose Law. Clinton was the first female member on Wal-Mart’s board, added following pressure on chairman Sam Walton to name a woman to the board.
When Bill Clinton took office as president in January 1993, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the First Lady of the United States, and announced that she would be using that form of her name. She was the first First Lady to hold a postgraduate degree and to have her own professional career up to the time of entering the White House. She was also the first to have an office in the West Wing of the White House in addition to the usual First Lady offices in the East Wing. She is regarded as the most openly empowered presidential wife in American history. In January 1993, Bill Clinton appointed Hillary Clinton to head the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, hoping to replicate the success she had in leading the effort for Arkansas education reform.
The Whitewater controversy was the focus of media attention from the publication of a New York Times report during the 1992 presidential campaign, and throughout her time as First Lady. The Clintons had lost their late-1970s investment in the Whitewater Development Corporation, at the same time, their partners in that investment, Jim and Susan McDougal, operated Madison Guaranty, a savings and loan institution that retained the legal services of Rose Law Firm. Clinton’s legal billing records were found in the First Lady’s White House book room after a two-year search, and delivered to investigators in early 1996, after the discovery of the records, on January 26, 1996, Clinton made history by becoming the first First Lady to be subpoenaed to testify before a Federal grand jury. After several Independent Counsels had investigated, a final report was issued in 2000 that stated there was insufficient evidence that either Clinton had engaged in criminal wrongdoing.
In 1998, the Clintons’ relationship became the subject of much speculation when investigations revealed that the President had had extramarital sexual activities with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Events surrounding the Lewinsky scandal eventually led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton. When the allegations against her husband were first made public, Hillary Clinton stated that they were the result of a “vast right-wing conspiracy”. She later said that she had been misled by her husband’s initial claims that no affair had taken place. After the evidence of President Clinton’s encounters with Lewinsky became incontrovertible, she issued a public statement reaffirming her commitment to their marriage.