Nancy Pelosi at Radcliffe

Photo by Stephanie Mitchell Harvard Staff PhotographerPhoto by Stephanie Mitchell Harvard Staff Photographer

Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as speaker of the United States House of Representatives, spoke at Radcliffe in late October in a conversation with Ellen Fitzpatrick RI ’09, the Carpenter Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire and the author, most recently, of Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation (Ecco, 2010), which has been made into a documentary.

The event—held in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum—marked the 50th anniversary of the release of the Presidential Report on American Women. In 1961 President Kennedy established a presidential commission to examine and report on the status of women. Chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt until her death, in 1962, the commission published its report about women in the workplace, in education, and under the law in October 1963.

In a confiding voice, Pelosi reminisced about meeting Senator John F. Kennedy when she was a teenager, living with her Catholic family in Baltimore, where her father was mayor. She was a junior in high school when she learned that Kennedy was coming to town to speak at a dinner her father would be attending. “I would love to go to that dinner,” she told her mother, who replied, “Oh, I won’t be feeling well that night, so perhaps you can.” At the dinner, Pelosi sat next to Kennedy, which she said was thrilling.

Fitzpatrick asked Pelosi to comment on what we can do today to ensure that women’s economic position improves more in the next 50 years than it has in the past 50 years. “When women succeed, America succeeds,” Pelosi said, and then she outlined an economic agenda for women and families that included raising the minimum wage and achieving pay equity, paid sick leave, and affordable quality childcare.

As for increasing women’s political power, Pelosi said, “I promise you this—I know it for an absolute fact—if you reduce the role of money in politics and increase the level of civility in politics, you will increase the number of women in public service.”

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