Women should acknowledge their power to enact positive change, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a Thursday event.
The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service and SiriusXM sponsored the event, titled “A Conversation on 100 Years of the 19th Amendment,” which celebrated the centennial of women’s suffrage. Pelosi, who made history in 2007 as the first female speaker of the House, spoke with SiriusXM host Julie Mason about the successes of and challenges facing women in the United States since they achieved the right to vote.
Female leaders’ dedication and persistence in promoting their right to vote led to women’s suffrage, Pelosi said.
“When it came, the headlines the next day said, ‘Women Given The Right To Vote,’” Pelosi said. “No such thing. Women weren’t given anything. We marched, we starved, we made sacrifices for decades in order to achieve the right to vote.”
When Pelosi was invited to the White House after she was elected as speaker of the House in 2007, she felt connected to historical champions of women’s rights, she said.
“I was squeezed in my chair, squeezed in my chair, couldn’t understand why,” Pelosi said. “All of a sudden I realized Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth, you name it, they were all sitting there on that chair with me. And I could hear them say, at last, we have a seat at the table.”
In recent years, women have expanded their influence in the political arena. In 2018, 98 years after women achieved the right to vote, a record 105 women were elected to the House for the first time, according to the Congressional Research Service. Out of the 105 women, 90 are Democrats.
As women’s role in politics has increased, other U.S. industries should also seek to increase female participation in the workforce, according to Pelosi.
“Nothing is more wholesome for politics or government or actually anything, whether it’s business or academia or the military or Wall Street, than to increase participation of women and the leadership of women,” Pelosi said. “Women, know your power, and it doesn’t mean it is better than men at the table; it means we have to have everybody at the table.”
In 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton became the woman closest to a seat at the table in the Oval Office by winning the Democratic primary. Though Clinton lost in the general election to President Donald Trump, women like Clinton have continued to pave the way for more women to enter prominent roles, Pelosi said.
“Usually I am introduced as the highest-ranking woman in history, and I could break down and cry every time they say that because that is not how I thought it would be,” Pelosi said. “I thought we would have a woman president right now as we speak. Hillary Clinton really was a trailblazer for women running for president in a very important way.”
As the 2020 election approaches, it is likely former Vice President Joe Biden or Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will face off against Trump. Although Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) remains in the race, she trails significantly behind Biden and Sanders. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) dropped out hours before Pelosi spoke at Georgetown University and cited combating sexism in her campaign during a public address. All other female candidates have dropped out.
Though women do not have a path to the presidency this year, Pelosi emphasized the importance of women’s self-confidence. Understanding security issues, which are typically considered male-dominated fields, is also essential for women’s success in politics, she said.
“Whether it’s armed services, foreign affairs, intelligence, homeland security, veterans affairs — I want them to have standing on security issues,” Pelosi said. “People think education and health care are women’s issues. They are everybody’s issues. And every issue is a woman’s issue. Take ownership of it all because that is what it takes to be the president of the United States.”
The most important part of running for office is connecting with the public, Pelosi said. People want to see authenticity and feel a connection, she said.
“So whether you’re running for president or Congress or city council or just starting out, just understand that all the intellectual part is so important,”’ Pelosi said. “But how you connect, this is not for the faint of heart.”
This article has been updated to include the sponsors of the event.