×

Meet the Wellesley grads who don’t support Hillary Clinton

When it comes the election of 2016, Wellesley College is Hillary country.

Mostly, anyway.

Much has been made about the big number of young Bernie Sanders' supporters who attend Hillary Clinton's alma mater, but when it comes to the alumnae, the vast majority are supporters of Clinton, one of the revered institution's most celebrated graduates. And they very much want to be able to say that the first female president of the United States was a Wellesley graduate.

Wellesley College
Source: Wellesley College | Facebook
Wellesley College

More than 3,000 graduates of the women's college descended on the campus last weekend for the annual reunion. It's three days of ritual and traditions, all designed to inspire nostalgia, emotion and ultimately donations.

And not surprisingly, this year much of the talk was about the election and "Hillary." Almost no one refers to her as Clinton. Generally speaking, Wellesley graduates call Clinton, Class of 1969, by her first name.

"I'm voting for her, and all my close friends are voting for her," said Mary Russel Oleson, Class of 1956. She arrived early for one of the most cherished Wellesley traditions: step-singing.

All the women of the college gather on the steps of the chapel to sing songs written by Wellesley women. (One is dedicated to the theory of evolution.) As the first song, "America the Beautiful," gets underway — lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates, Class of 1880 — many of the attendees can be seen crying.

But Russel Oleson was surprised to learn earlier that evening that one of her classmates was not voting for Hillary.

"I just assumed that all Wellesley women would vote for her."

"Why?"

"Because she's Wellesley!"

Wellesley has many famous graduates — the first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, "Sleepless in Seattle" writer Nora Ephron, BlackRock co-founder and Apple board member Susan Wagner.

And yet, Clinton's image looms largest.

She figures prominently in marketing materials. At the college bookstore there is an entire table dedicated to Hillary items. Books, mugs, action figures and a coloring book grace a table right at the entrance.

Hillary Clinton memorabilia on display at Wellesley College bookstore.
Michelle Caruso-Cabrera | CNBC
Hillary Clinton memorabilia on display at Wellesley College bookstore.

Indeed, there is an ever-present undercurrent at Wellesley that whispers, occasionally screams, that one should support Hillary because she is part of the sisterhood.

Amy Yamashiro, Class of 1991, said "It would be very hard to say you don't support her here." Classmate Angie Garling added it would "feel like you are going against your tribe."

More than one alumna used the word "betrayal" when asked about those who might not vote for Hillary.

And it's not just the alumnae who support her. Her thesis adviser, Professor Alan Schechter, is campaigning on her behalf. Sgt. William Bowman of the campus police showed off a photo of himself with Hillary when she visited the campus in 1992 and said he will vote for her.

There were a number of alums who would admit they don't like her, but would support her regardless, either because they don't like Donald Trump, or because ultimately it would be good for the Wellesley brand to say it graduated the first woman president of the United States.

"I will not admit publicly that I don't like her, that I don't think she's trustworthy," said a member of the Class of 1986, who added that she will ultimately vote for Clinton over Trump. To say you don't like Hillary in front of other Wellesley alums is "like stabbing a baby in front of everyone." And even she is going to vote for her.

No surprise perhaps that finding alumnae willing to state on the record that they will not vote for Hillary was strikingly difficult. Among dozens upon dozens of attendees asked, a total of four women said they would not vote for her "under any circumstances": three lawyers and one economist, all of whom describe her as "corrupt" or "criminal." All of them added it was a lonely position to take during reunion.

Hillary Clinton memorabilia on display at Wellesley town bookstore.
Michelle Caruso-Cabrera | CNBC
Hillary Clinton memorabilia on display at Wellesley town bookstore.

Only two of them would speak to me for attribution. Both of them have an intestinal fortitude that would be useful in trench warfare.

"The Wellesley brand, I'm all about it. It has gotten me jobs," said Pia Norman Thompson, Class of 1991. But when it comes to voting for Hillary, "I can't." Does she get backlash from her friends? "They ignore me. They don't engage."

"She should be in jail," said classmate Patricia DeAngelis, the former prosecutor of Rensselaer County, New York. "As a former prosecutor, she should be indicted right now," said DeAngelis, a Republican, seemingly without any concern about upsetting her classmates.

A man once pleaded guilty to plotting to abduct DeAngelis, allegedly planning to hold her as a slave and then murder her, so facing off against aghast Wellesley women may not seem so frightening.

DeAngelis goes further than anyone else — willing to say on the record that she will vote for Trump. He wasn't her first choice for the Republican ticket, but if the other choice is Hillary, she will vote for him. She said she thinks Wellesley is similar to the country in that "a lot of people are voting for Trump, but are afraid to say it."

Speaking of Trump, the Class of 1991 was particularly curious about classmate Janna Little, married to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced he would vote for Trump the day before reunion started. His wife did not attend the event. Paul Ryan's office told CNBC that she would not comment for this report.

A member of the Class of '66 told me she will vote for Trump, not because she likes him, but because not voting would help Hillary.

But she spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of the backlash: "I have good memories of this place. I don't want to wreck it."

On Sunday morning, all the alums gather on College Road for the annual reunion parade. Everyone is dressed in white except for one article, a hat or a scarf, in their class color.

It's another tear-jerker as younger women watch and cheer the members of the oldest classes, who get to march first. Ladies from the Class of 1941 and 1946 ride in antique cars and wave pompoms in their class colors as the younger woman cheer.

Former Wellesley President Nan Keohane is marching with her Class of 1961. As she walks, she recounts what a Wellesley husband told her once: "I never met a woman who went to Wellesley, who ever got over it."

CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera is a member of the Wellesley Class of 1991. While reporting this story, she was not brave enough to admit to her classmates that she is reluctant to vote for Hillary Clinton. Caruso-Cabrera is undecided as to what she will do in November.

Correction: This story was revised to correct the spellings of the first names of Katharine Lee Bates and Angie Garling.