“Only you can make the contribution you will make.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to the Radcliffe Institute to discuss women’s rights and left us with few words of advice:

“Observe. Think. Act.”

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Presidential Report on Women, the Radcliffe Institute invited Nancy Pelosi to discuss the progress and challenges of women’s rights today.  The Report, commissioned by President Kennedy in 1961, examined how American laws and social norms inhibited equal rights and pay for women, and recommended a series of reforms intended to increase access and equality for women in the work force.  Pelosi’s advice is reflected in the work of the Presidential commission and her career public service.

Speaker Pelosi during her visit.

Speaker Pelosi during her visit.

Pelosi, a warm and captivating speaker, sprinkles personal anecdotes and jokes throughout her speech in order to  humanizing herself and helping us connect with the questions she answers and issues she raises.    She opened her discussion with a few memories of President Kennedy, recalling her feelings as a star-struck teenager meeting Senator Kennedy and sharing her opinion of his acceptance speech as President-Elect.  Her story evokes the image of an inspirational leader with movie-star status.

Pelosi walked us through the feminists who petitioned for women’s right to vote, the first vanguard to enter the workforce during the war, the second wave that remained at work or create a place for women outside the home, those those who lead the way into political leadership.  She about the significance of the Presidential Report on Women and the changes that have taken place since its publication in 1963, including a formal end to gender discrimination in hiring, paid maternity leave, a call for equal wages, and judicial assistance to recognize equal rights and opportunities for women. She also spoke about her experiences as leader and advocate for women’s rights.  Today, Pelosi campaigns to raise minimum wage, improve pay equity, increase sick leave, and establish affordable child care.

After breaking through the “marble ceiling” in congress by becoming the first female congressional leader, Pelosi describes the feeling of sharing her seat at the table that day with activists Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Recalling her first meeting at the White house as Democratic House Leader for a meeting between the congressional leaders, president, and vice president she said “I looked and I realized this was unlike any meeting I had ever been to before. In fact, it was unlike any meeting that any women had been to before.”

Pelosi praised the work of the men and women who laid the foundation for change while outlining the work left to be done and the importance of leaders take action to create change.  She emphasized our responsibility to take action and to use our abilities make a difference: “Only you can make the contribution you will make.”

To read more about Pelosi’s visit to the Radcliffe Center, check out the Harvard Gazette at  http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/10/the-measure-of-a-woman/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=11.01.daily%2520%281%29 

Ashley Litzenberger is a Graduate Assistant in HGSE Office of Admissions and Master’s of Education candidate in the Higher Education Program. Prior to attending HGSE, Ashley worked in Israel on projects that promoted peace dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth. She looks forward to exploring the ways in which colleges and universities facilitate intercultural dialogues. 

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