Pelosi Remarks at Ceremony to Donate Historic Artifacts from Her Swearing-In as Speaker to the Smithsonian
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at a ceremony at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History to donate artifacts, including her gavel, speech, vote tally card and suit worn when she was sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
Leader Pelosi. Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much. What a beautiful gathering. It is a great privilege to join you in this historic Flag Hall and to stand before the Star Spangled Banner to affirm this vital truth: that women’s history is American’s history.
How wonderful it is to be joined by Judy Woodruff, an icon of journalism and National American History Board alumna. Thank you, Judy, for joining us and inspiring us with your words. And that suit would be really nice up here.
Thank you, Secretary David Skorton, his wife, Robin, Director John Gray, Curator Lisa Kathleen Graddy and the Smithsonian Institution for their exceptional work to preserve our nation’s history as we inspire our next generation of trailblazers and change-makers. And let us salute the regents, the board and the staff, of which [Congresswoman] Doris Matsui is one. Let us salute their leadership.
Just to put this into some perspective because, when I was first invited to find this suit somewhere in the back of my closet and send it to the cleaners – ‘Oh that, okay’ – and to present some artifacts – they were just speeches – now they are artifacts, I was totally embarrassed.
But I thought about it, and on behalf of the women, and the women in Congress, I accept of this honor because as a young girl I was drawn to the Smithsonian – now I know because of history – but I was drawn to it because of creativity, discovery and innovation. Coming over from Baltimore, this was a very big deal to come to the Smithsonian. Little did I know I would be returning at this time to share some artifacts from my time as Speaker of House of Representatives.
Let me go on to some widening circles. First, let me thank my family. It is a perfect joy to be joined by my family, my husband, Paul, three of our daughters, Nancy Corinne, Christine and Alexandra, my son Paul Jr. and our grandson, Paul Vos. Thank you all for being here. They have all shared many hours at the Smithsonian. My path to the Speakership began in Baltimore, Maryland where my father was mayor. I was raised in a large family that was devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, proud of our Italian-American heritage and staunchly Democratic. My parents taught us that public service was a noble calling and we had a responsibility to help those in need. My parents worked on the side of the angels and now they are with them.
The values they taught me provided me with strength and guidance that brought me to Trinity College, a place that told young women: you can do anything you set out to do. So again, it is a joy to be here with future leaders, current students from my alma mater Trinity, and my friend, Trinity President Pat McGuire. Thank you, Pat McGuire.
Thank you to one of my closest friends and roommate from college, Celia Hagerty, who is here with her granddaughter, Cecila McGrath. So widening the circle, my values instilled in me by my family and Trinity are embodied in my beloved San Francisco. I am forever thankful to my constituents. I have the immense joy and privilege of representing them in Congress.
You may not know this, but Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of San Francisco and his prayer is our anthem: ‘Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Where there is darkness, may we bring light. Where there is hatred, may we bring love. Where there is despair, may we bring hope.’
I said that the day when I was sworn in as Speaker, because it was with that spirit that I was sent to Congress. I am really humbled by my colleagues who had the courage to elect the first woman Speaker of the House, which was no small feat, bringing us closer to the ideal of equality that is America’s hope and heritage. I’m so grateful that so many of my colleagues are here today. Stand up, alright.
Colleagues and former colleagues. Quite frankly, if there had not been so many women elected to Congress, we would not have had a woman Speaker. I am so pleased that so many of female colleagues are here, led by [Congresswoman] Lois Frankel, the chair of our Women’s Caucus.
Stretching the term colleague to the Senate, I’m honored that an angel is here, Senator Elizabeth Dole. Thank you, Elizabeth. Give my love to the Leader.
I can’t help but mention two male leaders. Our former Leader Dick Gephardt, thank you so much for the opportunity you provided to women in Congress. And our Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn, who is here as well. Thank you.
The American Women’s History Initiative honors extraordinary women, says I, now being honored. I accept this compliment on behalf of women colleagues – and my men colleagues – and it celebrates groundbreaking achievements.
The pieces of history we highlight today by such heroes such as Sally Ride – we all said, ‘the sky’s the limit,’ Sally said, ‘no we’re going beyond that.’ And Sandra Day O’Connor, Marian Anderson, Anna Mae Hayes, and that list will go one and on, but what an honor to be included as a first among these first. To commemorate momentous milestones in American history and again inspire the next generation of trailblazers. I want to thank Congresswoman Doris Matsui, a Smithsonian trustee, for her leadership at the Smithsonian and for exceptional leadership for California in the Congress of the United States. Thank you for your very kind words, Doris Matsui and for your leadership.
And to Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Thank you for sharing your personal story with us and giving us a message of women and confidence. Confidence. That’s an important message that we want women to take and to have. Be yourself, know your power, go forth. And Cathy has certainly done that and we were so inspired by her pride in Washington state’s role in all of this. We’re proud of her leadership in the Congress, thank you, Madam Chair.
We’re all grateful for the tireless efforts of Representative Carolyn Maloney. Where are you Carolyn? Sponsor of the Women’s Smithsonian Museum Act. And the dedicated Members of the Women’s History Congressional Commission, some of whom are here, who work to give women’s history the recognition it deserves. Thank you!
Needless to say, it is a proud honor to participate in this effort. In 2007 I was granted the opportunity to shatter the marble ceiling when I was sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House, surrounded by children. Little Paulie, he was just a babe in arms that day, pictures show. And that day I said to our daughters and granddaughters, ‘we made history, now we must make progress.’
Together we did make progress to build a more perfect union, our Founders envisioned a nation that honors our creed, ‘e pluribus unum.’ They couldn’t possibly know how big we would be and how different it would be but they knew we had to be one.
America’s history has been one of ever-expanding freedom: an ongoing journey of progress toward freedom, equality and justice, from expanding freedom for women in the workplace with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to expanding freedom for men and women in uniform in the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, to expanding freedoms – I mentioned that our Founders in their Declaration declared life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the purpose of our nation. And we did that I think with the Affordable Care Act: a healthy life, freedom to pursue your happiness. So again, an ever-expanding circle of friends and freedoms.
Yet our work is not done. Our mission is to build a future in which every person can enjoy the blessings of liberty that is their American birthright. A future that honors of our men and women in uniform, our veterans and their families and the aspirations of our children because it’s all about the children. It’s all about our future.
Speaking of our future, we need more women engaged in every aspect of our democracy. Don’t you agree?
On the campus and in the Congress, on school boards and in community groups, in board rooms and court rooms, in the voting booths and the marches on the Mall. I’ve said, ‘Women: you have marched, now you must run,’ and they are. Judy [Woodruff] acknowledged that.
Nothing is more wholesome to our democracy than the increased participation of women in the politics and government of our nation.
100 years ago, as Chairwoman McMorris Rodgers mentioned, Jeannette Rankin stood on the House Floor and demanded women’s full place in our democracy. Imagine she was elected to Congress before women had the right to vote in the whole country. How remarkable and brave was she?
This is not for the faint of heart, mind you.
But nonetheless. We stand at another watershed moment in history. Brave women from every corner of the country, every industry, every walk of life, are showing their power. They’re speaking up to defend their health and their families, they’re standing up to demand respect for their rights and dignity. They’re proudly claiming the full inheritance and rightful place in our democracy.
We need the voices of all women, we need their courage and their strength because when women succeed, America succeeds.
Since we’re here talking history, I thought I would just share this story with you. You make your own judgement about it.
When I was first elected Leader, and had my first meeting at the White House as Leader, President Bush was President, and as was acknowledged, there were no women at the table. I wasn’t apprehensive about going to the White House – I had been there many times, as an appropriator, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, so I just didn’t even think about being apprehensive about the meeting. So when I got there and the doors were closed behind me, I looked at the table and I realized that this was unlike any other meeting I had ever been to at the White House. In fact it was unlike any meeting any woman had ever been to at the White House not a cabinet meeting, which, women are there and that is great, but power derived from the President.
But to be there, as a representative of my caucus – my beautiful, diverse caucus – more than 50 percent women, minorities and LGBT, I feel so proud of that – to bring a woman’s voice to the table. As I said, President Bush was president, ever gracious, ever lovely, beautiful welcoming remarks to me, to join the table. And while he was speaking I felt closed in in my chair. Very closed in. I could not – I have never had that phenomenon before, or since, but I felt closed in on my chair. And then I realized it was Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, they were all on the chair with me, just right there, and I could hear them say ‘At last, we have a seat at the table.’
And then they were gone. And my first thought was: we want more. We want more and we will not rest until we have more. So, I realized that I – I knew, of course – that I was standing on the shoulders of these brave pioneers. Imagine their courage in their day to do what they did. But that we all have strong shoulders for the next generation to succeed and stand on our shoulders.
And I just want to say, I hope that as Doris [Matsui] quoted Maya Angelou, and the beautiful remarks of Chairwoman McMorris Rodgers, and what Judy had to say – and the gentlemen as well, John Gray, thank you – women should just understand this: Be confident, there is nobody like you, know your power, go out there and make your difference. But it’s not a zero-sum game. As Maya Angelou said, ‘When one woman succeeds, it is a victory for all women,’ and we must support each other because that is really for the good of the country and the good of our children as we go forward.
I just want to share another moment with President Bush, with all of you. This was so moving to me, and I was so grateful to him. At the first State of the Union where I was Speaker – and that was the first time a woman was sitting behind the President of the United States – President Bush, he told me, ‘I have a surprise for you.’ But you never know what that could be.
It could be a veto, you know. Or it could be a signature – that would really be a surprise – no, we worked closely together, as a matter of fact. President George Bush gracefully marked a milestone. This is what he said. He came in briskly, marched up to the podium, and he began his remarks by saying this, ‘Tonight I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own, as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker.’
He went on to reference my father, Thomas D’Alesandro, I said he was mayor, but before, he was a Member of Congress, and I was born when he was a Member of Congress from Baltimore. But he said ‘Thomas D’Alesandro served here, and he heard heads of state speak, and he shared in the lively debate in Congress for our country, but never could he have imagined that one day his daughter, born then, would be Speaker of the House.’ And that was so lovely of President Bush, always lovely.
And while we are on the executive branch, let us always remember Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’ It is all about the future.
It is my hope that my participation in this initiative will inspire our daughters and granddaughters to fight for more change, for more progress and more access to their rightful seat at the table. In fact, at the head of the table.
Now, let me just tell you what is here – this is the gavel, this is the floor speech, this is the Congressional Record, and this – I signed this great vote count – this is the tally. I thought that would be an interesting artifact. This is the tally, it is all about the votes. I feel so blessed. I could tell the story of so many of you in this room, and your story. And that is what it is about, making people understand the stories that we all have. What motivates us, what is our purpose, what is our plan, how do we think in a strategic way to get the job done for the American people. And how do we do that? ‘E pluribus unum,’ bringing people together in a bipartisan, transparent, unifying way for our country.
Again, this is a special honor to be part of this mission. I feel blessed in so many way and with your friendships as well, and your support for women in our country. God bless all of you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.