Pelosi, Clinton celebrate Women's History Month, even as they make history, too

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mark Women's History Month in the Capitol's Statuary Hall.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mark Women's History Month in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. (Bill O'Leary - Washington Post)
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By Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2010

There are 35 statues of very important people in Statuary Hall of the Capitol. Thirty-four of them are of men. Frances Willard, suffragist and orator for Prohibition, is the lone woman. She looks somewhat forbidding, but then again, so does everybody else frozen in granite and marble.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton surely will rank for placement there someday. For now, they are making history, and on Thursday, at a reception in that hall, the two took an hour to celebrate together.

Pelosi opened her arms wide to Clinton and they hugged tightly, cheek to cheek, two brilliant red-lipsticked smiles. It was an exuberant display of girliness from two formidable women nearing the end of an extraordinary week for both.

"Whoever thought that on this day of all days, I'd be standing on this podium to celebrate Women's History Month and sharing the stage with two of my role models and two of the greatest female pioneers and role models for all of us?" said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), to cheers, applause and whistles from a crowd of 300 women and men.

Pelosi and Clinton are a testament to women's capacity to compose their lives alongside, rather than distinct from, those around them. One is the first female speaker of the House, a woman who didn't run for office until the youngest of her five children was a high school senior. The other is the first former first lady to become a U.S. senator, a woman who initially derived her political power from her husband and then went on to run for president, winning more than 17 million votes in primaries and caucuses.

One traveled to Mexico and Moscow in the past week and helped to negotiate a deal announced Wednesday that could slash the number of nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia. The other finally brought her disputatious membership to heel and succeeded, where the first had so famously failed, at achieving the sweeping health-insurance reform Democrats had sought for half a century.

"I was so thrilled when that vote finally closed," said Clinton, laughing, of the House passage on Sunday. "And I know what a challenge this was. I have the scars to prove it!" She commended Pelosi for her leadership and courage -- the speaker, who turns 70 on Friday, marched past angry protesters on her way to vote -- and said the bill is "particularly important to women."

But Pelosi made clear that she sees her leadership and Clinton's as serving everyone.

"What makes me so proud when I see her on the international stage is that she is speaking for the United States of America," Pelosi said about Clinton. "And while it is a priority of her secretaryship -- if there is such a word -- her tenure, that women's rights are viewed as human rights and respected throughout the world . . . there is a recognition that when there is a U.S.-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons, that a woman is leading the way on that."

The reception was pulled together as a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Women's History Month, before the month slipped away. In 1980, Woolsey said, there were seven women in Congress; now there are 90. Many of them were present Thursday, including at least one Republican, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, said a spokesman for Pelosi. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis also attended, as did House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).

"Some of my male colleagues said to me earlier, 'Having another one of your women's meetings, what do they call it, a clutch?' " joked Pelosi.

"Whatever it is, yes, we are." For all the world to see.

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