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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

As we know from prairie pioneer diaries, hardy Midwestern women could not get faint on a summer day. They had no time to admit weakness when there were quilts to sew or pies to bake for their little houses with wolves on the wind. And Mary just went blind.

Meet the Midwestern Protestant work ethic. Forget the Puritans. I mean a mighty force in the 2016 presidential election, but known to few. Hillary Clinton lives and breathes this strand of Americana, as a daughter of Illinois. Her friends and foes know it: She is a hard worker, harder than any man running for president.

“Sorry” was never a vocabulary word on the prairie. The Laura Ingalls Wilder books, based on her family, color Ma as a capable, practical woman who keeps her cool amid hardships. Laura became a schoolteacher in her teens and had to face down the big, bad boys. How plucky, crossing Main Street in a blizzard — because if you missed the other side, you were lost on the open prairie. There was no other choice to get home.

That’s the sturdy stuff Hillary Rodham was made of as a girl growing up in a Republican family in a Chicago suburb. That’s what made her fly around the world, setting a new record for meeting heads of states, as Secretary Clinton.

Stoic Midwestern Protestants are not emotive. It’s hard for them to talk much about themselves in the Southern porch style. Unlike fellow Americans on the East and West Coasts, they don’t write urbane novels or make movies celebrating themselves. We the people need to read Clinton’s Midwestern character appropriately. Then we’ll all sleep better at night.

Yes, the press is scolding Clinton for a lack of “transparency.” So what? As a journalist who knows Midwest Protestant culture, my Wisconsin girlhood steeped in it, Clinton adds up to me even as she rankles reporters who expect her to be open and to hang with them. That will never happen, though she protests she’s not “that bad,” as she put it in 2008.

After all she’s been through with her husband’s White House trials, we are like the wolves, or the locusts, or the Indian tribes Ma feared out on the prairie.

A key distinction: I am not saying Clinton is shy or reserved. Like many Midwestern Protestant women, she’s verbally forthright and often blunt to a fault. Her strong-minded kind were not raised to mince words, nor were they trained to beguile or flirt to “catch a husband.” When the former senator and first lady speaks freely among friends, her candor is a bit too bracing — as in her recent “deplorables” snafu. Clearly, she was pushing herself through exhaustion and (now we know) pneumonia.

If she were a man, she’d be praised for her grit.

When young Hillary went east for her education, she took that trait with her. Another ambitious Chicago girl did, too: Michelle Robinson Obama, a hard worker who left little to chance.

Midwestern Protestant women are amazingly strong and resilient, more so than popular culture knows.

Think of the girl stricken with polio who, as a teenager, flew off the village ski jump. Her good friend at West High was inspired to be first resident to plant a prairie garden in the village — where the Heiden Haus is named for her son and daughter, Olympic medalists in speed skating. My grandmother worked on her family’s Kansas ranch in the summer, making grub for a lot of men at light of day.

Consider Chicago. The city was burned to the ground in an 1871 blaze while the Ingalls lived on the frontier. Yet, Chicago got busy and rebuilt itself quickly — not of wood, but of a clean slate of steel. The first skyscraper was built there, an architectural paradise. You hear about “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow” as the spark, but they don’t complain or boast. Chicagoans love their city’s story and big shoulders.

Clinton was top of her class, too, just like her boyfriend, Bill. Hers was the very first women’s college class — and Yale Law School class — to catch the career trains the women’s movement created as engines of advancement.

That’s why the confident, Midwestern girl took the country by storm.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets reporters on her campaign plane in White Plains, New York, United States September 15, 2016, as she resumes her campaign schedule following a bout with pneumonia.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder