Nancy Pelosi Became House Minority Leader 10 Years Ago: What's Changed?

Nancy Pelosi was voted the first woman to lead a party in Congress—just before a decade of growth among women in power.

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi, newly elected House Minority Leader, celebrates with former leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., right, on Capitol Hill on Nov. 14, 2002. (AP Images)

When Nancy Pelosi was born in 1940, her parents welcomed their first daughter after six sons in a row.

That was probably a foreshadowing of some kind.

On November 14, 2002—10 years ago—U.S. Representative Pelosi (D-California) was elected Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. After 214 years of the two-party Congressional system, she became the first woman to lead a political party in Congress.

Since then, she's served a term as Speaker of the House in the 110th and 111th Congresses (and was the first woman to ever do that, too), then returned for another term as House Minority Leader in 2011. And in the meantime, the landscape has changed for women in politics and other positions of power. Here's a look at some telling numbers that show us just how much certain things have evolved in the last decade, and how much certain other things haven't.


148 Margin of votes by which Pelosi won election as Minority Leader. She garnered 177 votes to trump her opponent Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee's 29.

8 Number of terms Pelosi had served in the House prior to her election as Minority Leader. She served as Minority Whip in the 107th Congress (in session in 2001 and 2002), and has represented California's 8th district (and its former 5th) since 1987.

0 The number of women who had been selected as a party leader before Pelosi.

200 Number of years that Pelosi joked she'd been waiting for this to happen.


77 Number of women who served in Congress while Pelosi was the House Minority Leader. The 108th Congress (in session in 2003 and 2004) included 14 female Senators and 63 female Representatives—one more than the record number of 62 set in the 107th congressional session. Of the women in the House, 42 were Democrats and 21 were Republicans; in the Senate, nine women were Democrats and five were Republicans.

14 percent Portion of the 108th Congress that was female.

91 Number of women in Congress today—which is two fewer than at the end of the last session. The 112th Congress includes 17 female Senators and 74 female Representatives; in the Senate, 12 of the women are Democrats while five are Republicans, and in the House, 50 women are Democrats and 24 are Republicans.

And when the next Congressional session begins, it will include the largest class of female Senators since 1992. The total number of female Senators will rise to a historic high of 20 women, and at least 77 women—another record—will serve in the House of Representatives come January.

16.8 percent Portion of the 112th Congress that is female.


3 Number of women in the President's cabinet in 2002. Elaine Chao was the Secretary of Labor, Gale A. Norton was Secretary of the Interior, and Ann Veneman was Secretary of Agriculture. Eleven men served in the President's cabinet at the time.

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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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