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Pelosi, Secretary Clinton, Rep. Woolsey Remarks at Congressional Women's History Month Celebration

Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey delivered remarks this afternoon at the Congressional Women's History Month Celebration in Honor of Secretary Clinton in Statuary Hall of the Capitol. Below is a transcript of the ceremony:

Speaker Pelosi.  Good Afternoon.  And it is a good afternoon.  Today we gather in Statuary Hall to observe Women's History Month and to honor a woman who has made history and is making progress for the American people, Secretary Hillary Clinton. [Applause.]

On behalf of my colleagues in the Congress, may I say what a great honor it is for us to invite the Secretary here and to invite each and every one of you to observe this important Women's History Month and doing so to acknowledge the extraordinary leadership of a great American, again, Secretary Hillary Clinton.  [Applause.]  

May I acknowledge a couple of women from the Administration:  Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who is with us; Administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, thank you Lisa; Administrator of the SPA, Karen Mills.  Karen had to go make a speech and may already have gone.  And also, now I want to acknowledge, this is an event, Madam Secretary, that has the full support of our Women's Caucus, but is led by a woman who was instrumental in establishing Women's History Month, our colleague from Marin County in California, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.  [Applause.]  

More than 30 years ago, she led the way to ensure that the essential role of women was noted in the history books. Her work, along with the National Women's History Project, represented here today by Molly MacGregor, their work helped ensure that every March we honor the women who paved the way to progress.  We know we stand on the shoulders of many brave and courageous women over time, who fought to end discrimination, whether it was to end slavery in the abolitionist movement, to be suffragettes early on, and for women to have the right to vote and then to remove every other obstacle to women reaching the heights of power in our country. 

And so we honor each and every one of you who has been part of that, but I especially want to acknowledge the significant work of Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.  And she has been a major part of our ending discrimination against women in our health care, as part of the debate that we will be continuing this afternoon.  [Applause.] 

She has been called the conscience of the Congress, along with our colleague Barbara Lee, who I believe is here and Nydia Velasquez, who is here as well.  But please, let's give a very warm welcome to express our appreciation for her leadership in establishing National Women's History Month, but also for all of the progress that she has made by being a force for change, in passing universal quality affordable health care for all Americans, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.  [Applause.]   

Congresswoman Woolsey.  Thank you, Madam Speaker.  Whoever thought that on this day of all days, I'd be standing on this podium to celebrate Women's History Month and sharing the stage with two of my role models and two of the greatest female pioneers and role models for all of us?  [Applause.]

Looking around at the extraordinary women in this room, I can't help but think how far we have come.  If we had had this event 50 years ago, we wouldn't have needed to reserve Statuary Hall.  We could have held it in a phone booth--and they did have phone booths back there--because there were so few women that were given the opportunity to excel and achieve both outside of government and inside of government.     

I am very proud that it was my home district that helped changed all of them.  Sonoma County, California is the birthplace of Women's History Month.  It was there 30 years ago, that a group of dedicated relentless women started a movement to bring women's achievement into our classrooms, our libraries, our clubs, and our communities.  It was there that the Women's History Project was founded and began engaging people at the grassroots about the contributions women have made to a strong America.

Many of those founding women are here today, but I'd like particularly to recognize Molly Murphy MacGregor.  Molly, who is the late Mary Ruth's daughter and three other amazing women--Maria Cuevas, Paula Hammett, and Bette Morgan--convinced the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, that I chaired, that it was time to write women back into history and honor them during the month of March.  The celebration that began as a county wide, one-week event with a bunch of committed and dedicated and noisy women parading through our town, and of course, I was one of them, is now celebrated in thousands and thousands of classrooms every year throughout the country.  And because of their work, here we are celebrating Women's History Month with so many extraordinary women in this room, including of course Secretary Solis and Secretary Clinton and all of my colleagues in the Congress.  I see you all, and I love your faces. 

In 1980, there were seven key women serving in Congress.  Today, there are 90.  [Applause]  One of them stands out above them all.  She has been an extraordinary leader, both idealistic and pragmatic, compassionate and tenacious, and she is as gracious as she is brilliant.  It was because of her determination and her leadership that we passed the historic health care reform bill.  [Applause.]  When my grandchildren's grandchildren read their history books, Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi will be right there among the giants in women's history.  [Applause]  Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, Dr. Sally Ride, Secretary Clinton, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Our history has just begun.  Thank you. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you very much, Lynn Woolsey, for your leadership, for your kind words, and for your great, great persistence on behalf of the American people.  It is wonderful to see each and every one of you here. There is history in this room. 

I do want to acknowledge that the Majority Leader, Mr. Hoyer, is here to join the women in celebrating today.  And the dean, the dean of the New York delegation, Charlie Rangel.  

When we thought about how we would observe Women's History Month this year, we wanted to do it in the best possible way.  And what better way to do it than to honor and express our appreciation to Secretary Hillary Clinton for how proud she makes us each and every day?  

We know that as First Lady and as a United States Senator, and now as Secretary of State, she has the experience, the knowledge, the brilliance, the stamina--how does she get the stamina?--the stamina and the intellectual, as I said, not only the intellect, but the intellectual rigor to represent our country in the best possible way. 

What makes me so proud when I see her on the international stage is that she is speaking for the United States of America.  And while it is a priority of her secretaryship--if there is such a word--her tenure, that women's rights are viewed as human rights and respected throughout the world, in lifting up women and addressing women, HIV/AIDS, climate change, and all of those issues is very important.  And again, icebreaking in terms of, groundbreaking in terms of what she is doing.  There is a recognition that when there is a U.S.-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons, that a woman is leading the way on that.  There is a recognition that while again, all of those other issues I mentioned earlier are important to women and ending discrimination and economic empowerment are important to women, that national security issues are women's issues as well. 

Our country could not be better served than by her leadership, her grace, the respect she commands.  And I hear it all over the world, and when leaders come here to the Capitol as well, how proud they are to say that they are meeting, have met with, or have visited with our Secretary of State.  Hers is a values based, a values based secretaryship. 

Following in the footsteps of Madeleine Albright as the first woman Secretary of State, and weren't we proud when President Clinton made that important appointment?  And a friend who isn't here today, Geraldine Ferraro, she broke ground when she was the first candidate for national office in terms of a nominee of the party.   

But Hillary Clinton did not leave that ground unbroken.  She built on that, and has taken us to new heights.  We couldn't be prouder of her leadership, of her service, and of how she represents the United States of America.  God has blessed us with her service.  We are so delighted that she honors us with her presence today.  Let's all show our appreciation and our respect for the leadership of Hillary Clinton. 

And it just happens to be that the Secretary is with us on the day when we will put the final vote to health care for all Americans, an issue on which she led the way that we all benefited from. 

You probably think I am going to speak forever, and I could on all of the reasons we are so very, very proud of Secretary Hillary Clinton and proud to honor her National Women's History Month--a woman making progress, a woman making us all proud.

Secretary Clinton.   

Secretary Clinton.  Oh, thank you.  Wow.  This is about as good as it gets--to be here on the day, to celebrate Women's History Month with our Speaker, and with so many friends.  And I mean, it is a special blessing and I am so grateful to look around and see so many of you with whom I have worked and done so many important tasks, and taken on so many difficult issues on behalf of our country.  I am delighted to be here, to be able to thank Nancy Pelosi for her leadership, to thank her for her courage, and to see all those who have made it possible, from, of course, Steny Hoyer and so many of you who have been in the trenches. 

I was so thrilled when that vote finally closed.  I don't know, Nancy.  I mean I kept thinking: “Oh, Lord.  What might happen next?”  And I know what a challenge this was.  I have the scars to prove it, and they are fading fast now that I know I will have universal, quality, affordable health care.  [Applause.]

But this bill--which will finally see its last action in the House after coming over from the Senate this afternoon--this bill means so much to our country, but it is particularly important to women.  Women who have for too long borne the burden of our broken system, who have taken care of so many others as the caretakers and had to interact on so many different levels with our health care system.  And we all could be here all night talking about those whom we know, those whom we love, maybe ourselves, and all of the challenges. 

I will never forget being in Cleveland, Ohio at the babies and children hospital there, and talking to a father who had two children with Cystic Fibrosis, another health child.  He could not get insurance for his two sick children, and he told me he went from place to place.  He was a successful man.  He offered whatever it would take, and finally one of the insurance company reps just looked at him and said:  “You just don't understand.  We do not insure burning houses.”

There are millions of stories like that, which now because of this Congress will be stories of the past, not our future.  So thank you all so much.  [Applause.] 

And it is such an honor to serve with Hilda Solis and Lisa Jackson and the other women in the Obama Administration who are pushing the envelope every single day.  And to look here and see so many of my former colleagues--the Speaker mentioned Charlie Rangel.  I would not have run for the Senate without Charlie's gentle nudging.  And I am forever grateful, and of course, you know Chairman Reyes and Chairman Levin, and so many of the people that I work with on a daily and weekly basis. 

And here we are in Statuary Hall to celebrate Women's History Month, and I had no idea I had Lynn Woolsey to thank for that.  And I am so glad publicly to thank you both. 

I am so privileged, as the Speaker said, to travel around the world on behalf of our country, on behalf of President Obama, on behalf of all of you.  And I have traveled a lot of miles in the last 15 months, and I have had the great privilege of speaking with world leaders about everything from Iran to China to the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan and our Western Hemisphere and every place in between.  But I always raise, wherever I go, the rights of women.  [Applause.]  I believe that women's rights, roles and responsibilities is the last piece of unfinished business that we must confront together.   

Nick Kristof said about two weeks ago something that has really stuck with me.  He said: “You know, in the 19th century, the great moral struggle was the struggle against slavery.  In the 20th century, the great moral struggle was the struggle against totalitarianism.  And in the 21st century, the great moral struggle is to finish according women and girls everywhere the same opportunities and rights that their men and boys and their societies have.”  [Applause.]

There are so many brave and courageous women whose names we will never know.  As Lynn read out some of the names of women in our history, including our Speaker, we can think of others that come to mind.  But there are so many millions throughout our history and millions more in the world today, whose accomplishments are unheralded.  Just look at how few women we have here in Statuary Hall or throughout the Capitol.  Slowly but surely, we are writing women back into history as the National Women's History Project says.  And I was very proud last year when Sojourner Truth took her rightful place here in the Capitol.  [Applause.]

My friend, Sheila Jackson Lee and I labored on that for years.  I could've told everybody in the Capitol: “You know, you are going to say yes to Sheila sooner or later.”  But we fought for that statue, and we had the help of so many of you because the history of this country cannot be told without including the ongoing narrative of American women working, organizing, educating, inspiring, galvanizing, and leading all of us to push for a fuller expression of our rights. 

And I am here very grateful for this moment and thankful to share it with all of you, but I am thinking about the women around the world, whose voices need to be amplified by ours.  Think about Aung San Suu Kyi, standing up for democracy. [Applause.] Years and years of house arrest have never broken her spirit, dented her courage, or in any way stripped her of the grace that she conveyed under the most difficult of circumstances.  Or think about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf leading Liberia into the future after years of civil war.  [Applause.]

I am so touched and moved when I see women leading in their societies, but I am equally touched and moved when I meet those who are breaking ground, who are truly pioneers.  Earlier this month, I met a woman from Afghanistan who has joined her provincial council.  She is pushing for educational opportunities for girls.  She is working to recognize the right of the mentally disabled.  I met another who is leading an effort to recruit thousands of women into the Afghan National Police Force to better protect women and girls. 

These are profiles in courage.  They may never be included in a book, but they get so much encouragement by knowing that we know their stories, by sharing them with each other.  Women in Iraq turned out not only to vote in record numbers but even ran for office, refusing to submit to fear and intimidation.  [Applause.]  There are women who tonight will go out continuing to rescue girls from brothels in Cambodia, to heal women injured in childbirth in Ethiopia, or to find them as they have been abandoned in the forest in Eastern Congo after being brutally assaulted and bringing them to safety.  There will be women who are cleaning up and giving comfort in the wake of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.  The list goes on and on.  And they won't be enshrined in bronze or marble in a magnificent hall like this, but they are the authors of a new chapter in the march toward human equality and progress. 

So as this Women's History Month draws to close, let us redouble our efforts to make sure that all the women and girls in our own country have a chance to live up to their own God-given potential.  And then let's make sure that we keep reaching out to more girls and women around the world.  So this is not just a celebration of Nancy or me.  This is a celebration of all the women and girls who may not ever get called Speaker or Secretary of State, but who in their own ways are making it possible for generations to come after them, to seize and hold their rightful place. 

I am thrilled to be representing our country at this time in our history, when we are really on the cusp of being able to relate to and work with countries in a different way, to convey to them that open hand that President Obama spoke about in his Inaugural, if they will unclench their fist.  And the greatest beneficiaries of this kind of positive engagement will be girls and women because they are still too often the unfed, the uneducated, the uncared for. 

A few weeks ago, I was looking at a magazine, and I thought at first it said “genocide” and then I looked more closely and it said “gendercide” because there are so many girls who never get to their first birthday and who are still not valued, don't have that special support of a family that loves them and thinks that they are pretty special.  

And so we have not only the opportunity to pass laws, as you have done on health care, and to speak out, as so many of you, as I look around here know you do every single day, to tackle problems like Hilda does of unfair working conditions or as Lisa does about pollution and climate change that literally sucks the breath out of children, but also to make sure we are connected, literally around the globe, in a great network of support and caring and commitment. 

So thank you for what you did here in this House, the people's house, to make health care finally a reality, to deliver on that promise.  [Applause.]

And thank you for the support that you are giving us in our efforts to really make a new world, a world filled with possibility, potential and opportunity, where equality is taken for granted.  That is our mission, and let's go out and make some history again.

Thank you all very much.  [Applause.]

Speaker Pelosi.  As the Secretary is being joined by other members of President Obama's Cabinet, aren't we grateful to him for recognizing their talent?  I want to reference what the Secretary said about not having so many women in Statuary Hall.  Well, we're trying to change all of that.  

As the Secretary mentioned, she and Sheila have been involved in the Sojourner Truth statue, and that was a day when the place was packed and jammed, packed and jammed as we unveiled that important statue to Sojourner Truth.  We were so proud.  Shortly thereafter, we unveiled the statue to Helen Keller and we were so thrilled to be doing that.  And just a week or so ago we gave the gold medal to the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots. [Applause.]  WASP means something different here, over 700 women who are still with us, who were part of the Air Force during World War II, and we're very proud of that. And we have announced that we will have a statue to Rosa Park in the Congress of the United States.  But we are moving. [Applause.]  

I said, when young people come through, this is about history, but we're here about the future, and that future means a bigger role for women to make that future better. And as we do that, I just want to leave you this thought, because the Secretary was a First Lady, that's when the country learned to love her and knew more about her. The day, as you remember Secretary Clinton, the day that we unveiled the Sojourner Truth statue, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, stood there and she said: “I know that the suffragettes would be very proud to see a women as Speaker of the House.  But I can't help but wonder what Sojourner Truth would think to see me, Michelle Obama, as the First Lady in America.” [Applause.]

Some of my male colleagues said to me earlier having another one of your women's meetings, what do they call it, a “clutch?”  Whatever it is, yes, we are. But for all the world to see.  So again, let us say that we could not be more honored, we could not appreciate more, and be more thrilled than by the leadership of the great Secretary of State.  A position held by, think of it, Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson and Hillary Clinton.  Hooray! [Applause.]