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

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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.

5 Number of women in the President's cabinet today. Hillary Clinton serves as Secretary of State, Rebecca Blank currently acts as Secretary of Commerce, Hilda Solis is Secretary of Labor, Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Janet Napolitano heads the Department of Homeland Security. Currently, 10 men serve in the President's cabinet.


2/9 Female portion of the Supreme Court bench 2002. They were Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first and second women to serve on the Supreme Court.

3/9 Female portion of the Supreme Court today. Its three sitting female justices are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor; two of the four justices named to the bench since 2002 have been women.


6 Number of states with female governors in 2002: Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Montana, and New Hampshire.

6 Number of states with female governors today. Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Washington all have female governors in office. Governor-elect Maggie Hassan will take office in New Hampshire this January, when New Hampshire will also become first state to have an all-female Congressional delegation.


6 Number of Fortune 500 firms with a female CEO in 2002—which was noted to have risen from just one in 1995.

21 Number of Fortune 500 firms with a female CEO on January 1, 2013.

According to CNN: "It is significant as well as surprising that the women rising to the top these days are different from women leaders of the past, who tended to make it in industries like retail, beauty and consumer packaged-goods." Indeed—in 2012, Marissa Mayer earned a promotion to CEO of Yahoo, and defense contractor General Dynamics appointed Phebe Novakovic to take over at the end of the year. Meg Whitman and Ginny Rometty were appointed CEOs at Hewlett-Packard and IBM, respectively.


12 Number of women around the world serving in elected or appointed positions as heads of government or heads of state in 2002. Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Panama, Sri Lanka, and Switzerland all had female politicians as heads of state or as members of the state's governing body. (Two members of the 7-person Swiss Federal Council were female.) Meanwhile, Bangladesh, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Sao Tome and Principe, and the Philippines had female heads of government.

19 Number of women around the world serving in elected or appointed positions as heads of government or heads of state today. Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Kosovo, Liberia, Lithuania, and San Marino each have a female head of state, and Switzerland has 3 women serving in its Federal Council. An additional eight women serve as elected heads of government in Australia, Bangladesh, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Jamaica, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago.

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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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