The overwhelming emotion Hill felt at the time was sadness. Democrats were cowed, she thinks, because they were neither interested in nor prepared to take on the issue of sexual harassment. Republicans had put down their political stakes and would guard them whether or not it was good for the Supreme Court or the country. She cites the moment Senator Arlen Specter accused her of "flat-out perjury": "Now that made me angry."

Unknown to most people during the hearings, Hill was in terrible pain from fibroids so severe, she would undergo surgery to remove 18 tumors two months later. But other than the perspiration that made her forehead glisten—which Hill says was, unfortunately, a common response of her body to stress—she gave little evidence of being intimidated by her circumstances. "Someone said to me," Hill remembers, "'We're hearing all these rumors that he's going to withdraw his name.' And I said, 'No way, I know him better than that.'" Indeed, after she testified, an irate Thomas, back in the witness seat, accused the senators of engaging in a "high-tech lynching." They confirmed him four days later, on October 15, 1991.

Beyond enduring public fallout and fibroid surgery, Hill, back home in Oklahoma, found her job threatened. She endured random rude remarks from strangers and condemnations to hell. Some African-Americans accused her of betraying her race by challenging the promotion of a black man. Men and women who identified with her confessed their most painful stories: "I'd run into people who would be crying because this hearing evoked so much of their own life experiences—not only sexual harassment but also childhood abuse and any number of things that people felt helpless to do something about," says Hill. The responsibility of representing their agonies weighed heavily on her.


Next Story