A Boy from a Place Called Hope
When we first started our Small Town Tour, we reached out to residents in the community and asked them if there were any residents who deserved special recognition. Although we received many different responses, almost everyone mentioned a child born on August 19, 1946, a boy “from a place called Hope.”
As I investigated further, my search for more information about this boy led me to a house at 117 Hervey St. in Hope, Ark. Just months after a young woman named Virginia Cassidy Blythe lost her husband, she moved in with her parents, James Eldridge and Edith Grisham Cassidy, and it was there that she raised her son for the first four years of his life.
The little boy, known then as Billy Blythe, stayed with his grandparents while his mother went to New Orleans to complete her nursing degree. There “he learned the lessons of loss, how to walk and play and laugh in the home,” according to Christian H. Davis, an interpreter with the National Park Service in Hope.
When Virginia completed her nursing degree, she met Roger Clinton and married him in 1950 and the young family moved across town to a house on 13th Street. Three years later, they would move again to Hot Springs, Ark. When Billy’s little brother Roger Cassidy Clinton started school, Billy officially changed his name and became William Jefferson Clinton, the man who would eventually become the 42nd president of the United States.
But the boy from a place called Hope would always have ties to the community where he lived during his early years. Now a part of the National Park Service, you can visit the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home to learn about the early origins of one of our country’s most effective leaders.
Built in 1917, the house is now a national monument. When the NPS acquired the home, it had been damaged by fire, and they did much to restore it to its former state. Although not every piece in the home is original, the NPS worked with Clinton to find items that would best resemble the home how it looked during the late 1940s. The Cassidy’s lived in the home until 1957 when Eldridge Cassidy passed away.
As visitors tour the home, they will hear many interesting facts about Bill’s family life and how his presidential policies were affected by his youth. “Edith Cassidy believed that a happy boy was a fed boy and a healthy boy was a fat boy,” Davis says. “So she made sure young Bill was fed well with food and also with knowledge.” She made sure that young Bill learned his letters at an early age, so he advanced well in school. But Bill also attributes his grandmother to some of his bad eating habits, Davis says.
Bill’s grandparents also taught him other life lessons. Eldridge Cassidy owned a convenience store and young Billy learned to treat people fairly there. In that store, he learned true social justice because his grandfather never treated anyone differently based on race, and he even extended credit to those who may not have deserved it.
When young Bill was three or four years old, his grandmother Edith wrote to the family and said that they needed to get him a rollaway desk, “because you never know, he may grow up to be president one day,” she said. Little did she know how prophetic that statement that would turn out to be. The family pulled together and purchased him the desk.
“Visitors get a kick out of coming here and learning about [Clinton’s] early years, and the importance of fostering hope…and love in a child,” Davis says, “which he all learned here.”
Find out more about the Clinton Birthplace Home here or call (870) 777-4455. You may also listen to the complete interview with interpreter Christian H. Davis below. If you’d like to visit the home, it is open daily between 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.