On Jan. 4, 2007, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California took six grandchildren with her to witness the historic opening of the 110th Congress. It was the day Pelosi became the first woman to be speaker of the House.
In a 233-202 vote, which was the exact margin of the Democratic majority, the House chose Pelosi for the position over Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio.
Page 1 of the Jan. 5 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette featured a photo of Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Pelosi waving from the House floor during the roll-call vote.
A same-day story inside the front section described Pelosi’s first address to the House as “her coming-out to the nation” and said that “Pelosi … sought to introduce herself not only as the San Francisco liberal decried by Republicans, but as Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi, Italian-American Catholic, mother of five and native of gritty Baltimore, where her father was mayor.”
Her father, Thomas D’Alesandro, was a Maryland Democrat who served as a U.S. representative before being elected mayor.
Pelosi told the House members that “by electing me as speaker you have brought us closer to the ideal of equality that is America’s heritage and America’s hope.”
“For our daughters and granddaughters now, today we have broken the marble ceiling … the sky is the limit.”
Pelosi has said that her role as a mother prepared her for her political career. “I was really forged by my kids,” she told The Washington Post in a February 2019 interview. “It really shapes you. There’s no question.”
In 1963, the Baltimore native married her college sweetheart, Paul Pelosi, and they moved to San Francisco, where, along with raising their children, she found time to volunteer for the Democratic Party. After being the chairwoman of the Northern California Democratic Party and then the state party, Pelosi ran for Congress in 1987, winning a special election to replace Rep. Sala Burton, who had died.
In 2001, Pelosi became the first woman to be elected House minority whip, and then added to that title in 2002 when she was elected House minority leader and became the highest-ranking woman in congressional history, according to CNN.
Becoming speaker in 2007 made her the first woman to be second (behind the vice president) in the line of succession to the presidency. Encyclopaedia Britannica sums up some of the first tasks she tackled: “using what she referred to as her ‘mother of five’ voice, Pelosi began pushing for unity among the diverse factions within her party by embracing conservatives and moderates.”
In 2018, she donated her speaker’s gavel and other memorabilia to the Smithsonian Institution in honor of Women’s History Month.
Pelosi served as House Minority Leader from 2011 until January 2019, when she was re-elected House speaker on the first day of the 116th Congress, becoming the first representative since 1955 to regain that title.
— Jeanne Dahl
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