Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2014
After losing in the midterm congressional elections in 2002, Democratic Party House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt announced that he would be stepping down. Immediately thereafter, California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who had been in Congress since 1987 and was serving as the Democratic whip, announced her candidacy. Pelosi quickly dispatched with two male rivals for the position and was elected to the post of minority leader. After Pelosi officially assumed the position, the Christian Science Monitor proclaimed in a headline: “Pelosi Shatters a Marble Ceiling.” The selection of Pelosi was truly historic, as she was the first woman in the 216-year history of the U.S. Congress to head one of the major parties. Although Pelosi was well known on Capitol Hill, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released right after her election found that 61 percent of the public was not sure who she was. But women's rights advocates were generally thrilled with the selection of Pelosi. Peg Yorkin, cofounder of the Feminist Majority Foundation noted, “Suddenly, in the midst of all those essentially gray, white men in the Republican leadership, you've got a friendly, intelligent, warm woman who doesn't stand on ceremony.… It's going to be something.” Pelosi continued as minority leader after the 2004 elections, which saw the Republicans retain control of the White House and both houses of Congress.