Hillary Clinton stirs women at Phila. conference

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of women's issues but did not address her political future.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of women's issues but did not address her political future. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 03, 2013

Hillary Rodham Clinton had barely made it on stage to address 7,000 women in the Convention Center's cavernous exhibit hall Friday when four women sprinted across the room carrying a banner.

"Run Hillary Run 2016," the banner read.

Luncheon speaker at the 10th Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Clinton, 66, didn't acknowledge the banner or the possibility that she might be considering a 2016 push for the presidency.

Missing from Friday's event, or at least keeping a very low profile, was "Ready for Hillary," the noncampaign campaign organization beating the drum for the former senator and secretary of state's potential race.

No matter. The sentiment was already in the room, judging from the massive standing ovation Clinton received when she walked onstage, looking rested and polished.

"I think we're past ready" for a woman president, said Angela Lewis, an official at Bank of New York Mellon, after the conference, describing Clinton's speech as "inspirational, uplifting, and energizing."

Former Gov. Ed Rendell, a major supporter, introduced Clinton. She praised U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, 65, a Democrat from Montgomery County now running for governor.

The business end of Clinton's speech was her launch of "No Ceilings: The Full Participation Report," a Clinton Foundation global initiative to gather data on how women are faring and provide it to scholars, policymakers, and advocates, "to see the gains and to see the gaps."

"Too many women face ceilings that it make harder to pursue their God-given potential," Clinton told the audience.

"These ceilings don't just hold back women and girls," she said, "because no country can truly rise holding back half of its people."

The proof of Clinton's appeal was in the attendance. Last year, the conference - a daylong event of motivational speakers and self-help seminars - drew 5,000. This year: 7,000.

Among them was Lauren Garrettson, 27, a waitress from Cherry Hill attending Penn State Brandywine.

"She's very strong, very powerful. She's a role model," Garrettson said.

How Clinton overcame public humiliation when her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was caught in an extramarital affair, strengthened Garrettson's respect. "She persevered through all that," said Garrettson, saying her family has had its own struggles.

None of the younger women interviewed Friday at the event thought Clinton, who will be 70 when voters go to the polls in November 2016, would be too old to be president. But older women said they thought about her age.

"That job ages you," said Natalie Dixon, 44, a Philadelphia University professor.

She acknowledged she has wondered whether Clinton, at her age, could handle the rigors of the campaign and the job, but then also "wondered if I would have asked myself that same question if it were a man."

Clinton had a tough act to follow Friday.

Linda Cliatt-Wayman, principal at North Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion High School, talked through tears about her students' struggles. The audience responded with standing ovations in the beginning, middle, and end of her speech - ovations with more passion per clap, if such a ratio exists, than Clinton received.

Clinton sounded many of the same notes, with a focus on women.

She talked about the women and children she had met in the United States and worldwide - women who were abused, sold into slavery, burned because their dowries were insufficient, pushed into poverty. She talked about the pay gap in the United States, with women earning less then men for the same work.

"We're going to make sure those ceilings crack for every girl and every woman around," she said. "So let's get it going."


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

www.inquirer.com/jobbing

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