On January 4, 2007, Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives in U.S.—the highest elected office any women had achieved. When speaking about the moment, Pelosi stated, “Becoming the Speaker is a significant accomplishment, but I have never felt it was a personal victory. Rather, I see it as a pivotal moment for all women.” Pelosi recognized that ha
ving a woman achieve such a high positon of leadership in the government would put cracks in the glass ceiling that had not been broken before.
Although Pelosi became Speaker of the House through her own intelligence and hard work, she recognized that she was only able to get to this position because of the intelligence, hard work, and suffering of hundreds of women who came before her. In her book, Pelosi gives an example of one moment when this realization was particularly powerful. When Pelosi went into a meeting with both the President and leaders of both political parties, she realized that this was the first time a women had ever attended this meeting. As the meeting began, Pelosi states that she “suddenly felt crowded in my chair.” Pelosi explained that “it was truly an astonishing experience, as if Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and all other suffragettes and activists who had worked hard to advance women in government and in life were right there with me.” She imagined these past suffragettes stating, “At last we have a seat at the table.” Although this was a special moment, it left Pelosi wanting more. She thought, “We want more—more women and minorities to have seats at the table.” Pelosi was “standing on the shoulders” of past icons and contemporaries that had helped her put the crack in the glad ceiling.
Since Nancy Pelosi has been helped by women to achieve great things, she seeks to help other women accomplish many of the same things. When Pelosi was elected as Speaker of the House, she took steps to create an environment that would help other women succeed in politics. The “old system” had been turned “upside down,” and Pelosi sought to change the “culture of Congress.” Pelosi stated, “In 1987, Congress was still very much a men’s club—or a boy’s club, however you want to think of it. The tone had been set in the nineteenth century, and the whiff of old-boy politics still lingered. Cigarette and cigar smoke choked the air. One of my first acts as Speaker was to ban smoking in the Capitol, thereby signaling a change in the atmosphere.” Previously, “women and newcomers in Congress, no matter how experienced, had been treated with the same dismissive attitude by the old bulls—except for women in went on for a much longer time,” but Pelosi’s steps help other women feel more welcome in Congress.
Nancy Pelosi did not just help women by creating an environment that welcomed women into politics, but she also fought for women’s issues. Pelosi stated, “Every issue today is a women’s issue—the defense of our country, our economy, education, health care, energy, and protecting the environment.” Pelosi recognized that women’s issue are also societies’ issues and that the whole world is better when these issues are addressed.
When Nancy Pelosi was elected to the Democratic leadership, she received “messages of congratulations from women and girls around the world,” but she was surprised that she also received a “large number of good wishes” from father of daughters “who saw my success as opening new opportunities for girls.” That is exactly what Nancy Pelosi has done—she has inspired a whole generation of young women and girls to get involved in politics. She recognized the scarifies of other women and has worked hard to made politics more accessible to all women.
Nancy Pelosi with Amy Hearth, Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters, (DoubleDay, 2008).