'Know Your Power' Charts Pelosi's Path To Congress On Jan. 4, 2007, Nancy Pelosi made history as the first female speaker of the House. She talks with Deborah Amos about her new book, Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters. Pelosi comes from a devoutly Democratic family, and she charts her journey from stay-at-home mom to politician.

'Know Your Power' Charts Pelosi's Path To Congress

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/92983141/92983163" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


On January 4th, 2007, Nancy Pelosi broke what she calls the marble ceiling, becoming the nation's first female speaker of the House. She charts her journey in her new book, "Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters."

Pelosi learned about power from her father. Thomas D'Alesandro was a Democratic congressman and mayor of Baltimore. Before joining in his footsteps, Pelosi chose marriage and motherhood, moving across the country to San Francisco, but she couldn't shake her political roots. After finding the perfect house, Pelosi refused to move in. When we met Speaker Pelosi in her Washington office, we found out why. Back then, the house's owner was joining the Nixon administration.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): I really thought it was very important for the Democrats to win the election in 1968. I was devastated by that defeat for so many reasons. You have to remember, now, we're talking about the Vietnam War. We're talking about all of the issues that we cared about so much, and would I do the same thing over again? Probably.

AMOS: But you have had to learn, in your job, how to walk across the aisle.

Rep. PELOSI: Oh, yes.

AMOS: How did you get from not being willing to live in a house that was owned by somebody who was associated with a Republican to being able to walk across the aisle? That's a contradiction.

Rep. PELOSI: Well, it's a different responsibility. Then, I was a homemaker, and my home was not going to be a home made available because of the election of Richard Nixon. Now I'm the House speaker, and I have a different responsibility, to make sure that the voices of all of the members of Congress are heard out of respect for their constituents.

AMOS: You have a very funny story about male members of Congress talking about childbirth. Please tell us that.

Rep. PELOSI: With all due respect to my colleagues, and I have enormous regard for them - after all, they had the courage to elect a woman speaker of the House. Having said that, they still have their moments. I remember one night, we were having dinner with some of our male colleagues. All of a sudden, they started talking about childbirth.

Now it had been the custom at these dinners that if you want to get a word in edgewise, you had to jump in. But that evening, when they were talking about childbirth, we thought, well, at least they'll ask us what we think or if we even want to have this conversation, mind you, at the dinner table.

So they went wow, you should've seen when I went, I had the camera. I had on the green gown. I was all prepared to take the pictures. I went in there and said I'm out of here. And, you know, they're bragging about how much fortitude he had when his wife gave birth and this and that. And we looked at each other and sort of smiled and thought, surely they will say to us what do you think?

AMOS: And they didn't.

Rep. PELOSI: And they did not. And so when I remind them of the story, they say that couldn't possibly have happened. We would never have done that.

AMOS: But, indeed, they did.

Rep. PELOSI: And, indeed, they did.

AMOS: You go on to write about something called secret sauce. Explain what that means.

Rep. PELOSI: Well, I think the secret sauce is a recipe that the old boys' club and the Congress has had that they were not sharing with anyone. Remember, I came 21 years ago. There were only 20 women in the Congress at the time. And so it seemed there was an aura, and it wasn't only just geared to women. It was geared to new members, too.

Now with newer members, eventually, they'd become more experienced members and they'd be let in, but certainly not the women. And I observed this. I'm a student of human behavior, and observing this, I thought they don't have any secret sauce. They just want us to think they do, and that's my message to the young women. Do not be even intimidated for a moment that there is this secret sauce that only they know.

AMOS: You have reached, you know, the top of your profession here in the House. Women have done well in business, they've done well in science. Politics, in some ways, has been the exception. It's been harder for women to break what I read that you call the marble ceiling. Why is it much harder in politics?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, politics is hard. It's about power, and power is never given away. So everyone is competing for it, men and women. But to get directly to your point, I am encouraged that there will be many more women in higher office because of the example of so many women in office. Look at the beautiful candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I mean, that really gave women the idea that they could do it, too.

AMOS: But you bring up an interesting point. It's often been said that she could run as effectively as she did because she had name recognition as the first lady. And there have been other women who have served in their husbands' seats, that it is a pattern in a generation of political women that they come because they come from a family. They have a name because of a husband. Do you thinkā€¦

Rep. PELOSI: No, I don't think that. If I may, Deborah, I think that used to be the case. By and large, the idea of being a widow or a daughter or something, that hasn't been the case. I don't think it was in mine. I didn't run where my father had been in office. I ran, built my reputation in a different place, but overwhelmingly the women who are here now are here - not that the others didn't have an enormous contribution to make, but they're here in their own right, making their own mark. And if they happen to be from a family that has been committed to public service, that's the case for many men in Congress, as well.

AMOS: But there's no obvious woman on the horizon to run in a presidential campaign.

Rep. PELOSI: Well, look at this. Who knew four years ago who Barack Obama was? Who knew in 1991 who Bill Clinton was? Just because some of these women are not household words now doesn't mean that they could not emerge as a presidential candidate.

AMOS: Do you think, beyond the symbolism, that a woman as a president of the United States would be dramatically different than a man?

Rep. PELOSI: It's interesting that you ask that because lately, I've been thinking - I get introduced every place I go as the first woman speaker of the House, and people make a big fuss about it. But, really, now I can just be introduced as speaker of the House itself, evident that I am a woman. I think a woman president of the United States, in terms of symbolism, well, you can't separate it. You can't separate it.

AMOS: The first time.

Rep. PELOSI: The first time. But the experience as a woman that the person would bring to the table is something that says to women in America, I know your experience. I bring that judgment to the table.

I think in an intuitive way and that that special quality and that special grace that women bring to it all is something that would be such a source of strength to our country.

AMOS: Thank you very much. We've been talking to Nancy Pelosi about her book, "Know Your Power."

Rep. PELOSI: Thank you very much, Deborah.

(Soundbite of music)

AMOS: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.