The first female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, donated several items from her Jan. 4, 2007, swearing-in ceremony as speaker to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History at a March 7 ceremony in Washington, D.C. By becoming speaker, Pelosi achieved the highest political rank of any woman in U.S. history.
In addition to the lacquered maple gavel she received that day, Pelosi donated the burgundy suit she wore and the original copy of the speech she gave that morning, when she remarked: “For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them.”
Among the donated items: a copy of the Congressional Record containing the speech and the tally sheet of the vote electing her speaker. “It is all about the votes,” remarked Pelosi.
When she was born, her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was a member of Congress. Both her late father and her brother, Thomas D’Alesandro III, were mayors of Baltimore. Pelosi was first elected to Congress in 1987 representing California’s 12th congressional district (San Francisco).
Pelosi served as the 52nd speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011. In that role, she helped deliver major pieces of legislation, including the 2009 stimulus package and the 2010 health care law. She has been elected leader eight times by House Democrats and currently serves as the House minority leader, hoping to lead her party back to the majority in the upcoming midterm elections.
Pelosi recalled her first meeting as speaker with then-President George W. Bush. “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.’”
Providing a backdrop to the private ceremony in the museum’s Flag Hall were outfits from the Smithsonian’s growing collection of artifacts highlighting the role of women in American history representing historic women “firsts.” These included the item worn by Marian Anderson for her historic 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial; the U.S. Army mess dress uniform worn by Brigadier General Anna Mae Hays; Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s robe; and astronaut Sally Ride’s spacesuit.
Remarks were delivered by House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington); Rep. Doris Matsui (D-California); and Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor of PBS NewsHour.
The ceremony was attended by Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, four of their five children and a grandson. Also in attendance were several members of Congress, Elizabeth Dole and a 15-member delegation from Pelosi’s alma mater, Trinity Washington University.
Pelosi concluded by saying: “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.”
The donation ceremony, which took place just prior to International Women’s Day on March 8, concluded as Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton introduced the planning phase for the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, which will highlight women’s contributions and accomplishments.
View Jeff Malet’s photos of the donation ceremony by clicking on the photo icons below.