By Gina Carey/Sept. 8, 2021 1:28 pm EDT
Despite making historic strides for women over the years, Nancy Pelosi has only recently risen to icon status. To her stans, she’s the #girlboss who gets the job done with impeccable style — and during some of her most contentious years as Speaker, standing toe-to-toe with former president Donald Trump brought her viral adulation. To her detractors, she’s the witch with a gavel, an easy stand-in for liberal elitists in more than a third of GOP House attack ads.
Somewhere in between you have Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House whose first run for office didn’t come until her five kids were almost all in college. Now in a position of great power, continuing to pull women up the ladder behind her is at the core of her mission. “I really want women to know their power, to value their experience. To understand that nothing has been more wholesome in the political process than the increased involvement of women,” she’s said, as shared in the book “The Nancy Pelosi Way.”
When she’s not swearing in the record numbers of women entering Congress’ halls or passing legislation with stunning aplomb, you can probably find her … eating chocolate. Here are some of the lesser-known facts about our first Madame Speaker.
She shares a name with her favorite fictional heroine
Though Nancy Pelosi has said she liked to “read the newspaper cover to cover” as a kid, according to The Atlantic, some of her greatest inspiration came from lighter fare. She told Salon that her all-time “favorite fictional heroine” was Nancy Drew from the Carolyn Keene children’s book series. When Pelosi read the mysteries as a kid, she was particularly excited that she and the teen sleuth had something in common. “It was always fascinating to me that her name was Nancy,” she said. “I didn’t really know too many other Nancys except for my mother.”
She still reads Nancy Drew to her grandkids, and despite the books originating in 1930, Pelosi says the character has a timeless quality that they just eat up. “Her moxie, her courage, and her curiosity, were quite remarkable, it was quite remarkable when you think about it, that those books were written about a girl all that time ago,” she said.
As for her real-life heroines, Pelosi took examples closer to home, praising her mother and daughters.
Nancy Pelosi starts her day with ice cream
Nancy Pelosi has truly cracked the code on what constitutes the breakfast of champions. Rather than starting her day with Wheaties or even waffles, she fills her bowl with the most decadent dark chocolate ice cream available. “I don’t see it as different from having a cup of coffee,” she told Food & Wine (per Eater).
Though she’s cited many brands as her favorite, Jeni’s won out in a taste test of four chocolate varieties with Bloomberg. And in a “Cribs”-style kitchen tour for the “Late Late Show,” the Speaker revealed a freezer filled with all manner of ice cream — including Dove ice cream bars and a whole lot of Jeni’s cartons. She told TV host James Corden that she eats the frozen treat as much as possible and that it gives her an energy burst. “I don’t know what I would have done if ice cream were not invented,” she said. “I just wonder.”
She attended JFK's inaugural ball
Nancy Pelosi began orbiting the political sphere at a young age. A biography on the Speaker noted that she went to her first Democratic National Convention when she was just 12 years old (via Insider). And as a student at Trinity College, she was front and center at JFK’s inauguration. On the 50th anniversary of the event, she posted a photo of herself on Facebook at age 20, bright-eyed and dressed in a gown with elbow-length gloves next to the smiling president. “The leadership of President John F. Kennedy is not just a memory, but a living force that still asks every citizen to lead — and perhaps that is the most precious gift of all,” she wrote in the caption.
Kennedy’s presidency ushered in a new era of liberalism that attracted young activists. “Forget movie stars. We were all in love with JFK,” Rita Meyer, a friend of Pelosi’s from college, told Time. Pelosi later recalled the freezing cold day at a talk at the JFK Library, noting how Kennedy’s “beautiful” address reminded her of then-senator Barack Obama’s 2008 Berlin speech that skyrocketed him to global recognition.
Politics runs in Nancy Pelosi's family
Scoring tickets to JFK’s inauguration was a perk that came with Nancy Pelosi’s earliest connections: her own family. From the time she was born, her father was entrenched in Democratic politics, first as a Maryland Congressman, and later, when she was 7, as mayor of Baltimore, Time reported. Pelosi spent her childhood trailing her father at campaign events. She told The Washington Post she wished her family did more “normal” activities as a kid. “I saw people whose families had weekends and things like that. We were always doing political events,” she shared.
Following in their father’s footsteps, Pelosi’s late brother Thomas D’Alesandro III was the mayor of Baltimore from 1967 to 1971, per USA Today. She called him the “finest public servant” she had ever known, sharing, “His life and leadership were a tribute to the Catholic values with which we were raised: faith, family, patriotism.”
And finally, Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Christine isn’t an elected official, but she’s also made a career in politics. Along with authoring books about running for office, she’s a powerful figure in the Democratic party, serving on the executive committee of the California DNC, among other roles.
She first became an elected official when she was nearing 50
Though she went on to become the first female House Speaker in U.S. history, Nancy Pelosi began her political career later than most. She met her husband, Paul, while she was studying history at Trinity College, The Washington Post reported, and after graduation, she put off her interest in studying law to start a family. She had five children within the span of six years, but remained active as an organizer and volunteer while raising her brood. “She knew how to be organized. She crammed a lot into one day,” said her colleague Rep. Anna G. Eshoo. “Those are transferable talents to heading up the caucus.”
She became the Northern California Democratic chairwoman in 1977, and later the statewide chair in ’81. After losing out on a national role, she set her sights on fundraising, becoming the highly successful finance chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But it wasn’t until her friend Rep. Sala Burton, who was in the hospital being treated for cancer, urged Pelosi to run for her seat, that Pelosi decided to give it a go. With one child still at home in her last year of high school, she asked daughter Alexandra if she’d be okay with the frequent trips she’d be making to D.C. “Mother,” Alexandra reportedly answered, “get a life.” So Pelosi did, and in a tough election, eked out a win in 1987, when she was 47 years old.
She's been an advocate for LGBTQ rights since the beginning
Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district encompasses the center of San Francisco’s gay community. Since she was elected its congresswoman in 1987, she’s been a staunch supporter of equality, often ahead of the party on key issues that affect LGBTQ Americans. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), when Pelosi first got to Washington, she was one of the few politicians in Congress fighting for then-president Ronald Reagan to recognize and combat the AIDS crisis, and she even helped get permits to present the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the National Mall for the first time. And Time reported that she was an early proponent for gay marriage while Democrats were still pushing for DOMA, the Defense Against Marriage Act.
HRC cofounder James Hormel said her constituents see her as “a very vigorous defender of their rights.” Per the Advocate, she’s scored 100 percent on the HRC’s congressional scorecard, which measures support for equality, since it originated in 2003.
On her website, Pelosi affirms that her commitment to gay rights is as solid as ever: “The fight for equality demands our persistent efforts to honor our fundamental values of fairness and justice as we work to build a brighter future for all.”
Nancy Pelosi owns a vineyard
With an estimated net worth of $120 million (via Celebrity Net Worth), Nancy Pelosi is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. She and husband Paul own some stunning properties, but one of their more interesting investments is a six-acre Napa Valley vineyard. Located in St. Helena, California, the property is about 65 miles north of Pelosi’s district, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The estate’s architect has described it as “inspired by Palladian villas.” Along with a guesthouse, there’s also a unique Z-shaped pool and orchards that grow a Cabernet Sauvignon crop. In 2005, the Pelosis obtained a permit to operate the land as a winery, but haven’t built one yet. For now, the land is used to grow grapes and as a rental property, which earns the couple anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million annually, according to financial disclosures obtained by Politico. This is a marked increase to past earnings in the $50,000 to $100,000 category they previously reported.
While owning a vineyard is a wine connoisseur’s dream, Pelosi reportedly is not much of a drinker herself (per Tampa Bay Times).
She's a devout catholic
Central to Nancy Pelosi’s identity as a politician is her Catholic background. She grew up in an Italian-American home with a religious upbringing, even attending a private Catholic girls school and college, Time reported. For the Speaker, being a Democrat and a Catholic are very much entwined. “We saw our Democratic values as related to our religious values,” she told The Washington Post. “So it was almost a moral imperative that we would be community oriented.”
Pelosi, the youngest child of five and the only girl, received her primary education from the Institute of Notre Dame, where she was taught by nuns. Her mother hoped she would join the sisterhood, per The Washington Post, which she believed was the “most spiritually fulfilling” role a woman could take on. “Tommy was groomed to be mayor,” Pelosi said of her brother, who went on to become a politician, “and I was raised to be holy.” But it wasn’t in the cards for Pelosi, who, in the end, ascended to one of the highest political seats in the nation.
A haircut once got Nancy Pelosi into hot water
Like most women in the spotlight, Nancy Pelosi is subject to a whirlwind of scrutiny over her appearance. But one particular day at the hair salon caused a media firestorm. In August 2020, Pelosi made a trip to a San Francisco salon to get a trim from her longtime hairdresser, Jonathan DeNardo, according to USA Today. However, the city was still under strict quarantine from the COVID-19 pandemic. Snapshots of Pelosi with wet hair and her mask off made waves as the salon owner, Erica Kious, went on Fox News to slam the Speaker’s rule-breaking. “If she’s in there comfortably without a mask and feeling safe, then why are we shut down?” she said.
According to Pelosi, she had called the salon beforehand to find out what was allowable under quarantine guidelines. She claimed she always wore a mask and that the photo caught her right after she had washed her hair. “It was a setup, and I take responsibility for falling for a setup,” she said.
Her stylist backed her up, noting that Kious made “vitriolic and incendiary comments” about Pelosi when she found out the Speaker was booked. He said Kious held Pelosi responsible for “temporarily suspending operations of Ms. Kious’ business” despite the shutdown orders coming from California Governor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco’s mayor.
President Donald Trump weighed in as the story made national headlines, saying, “Nancy, you’re not supposed to get set up, you’re representing our country.”
Subtlety is her secret weapon
Nancy Pelosi has had much success as Speaker, getting a diverse coalition of House Democrats in line for enormous policies like the Affordable Care Act. Her leadership tactics are neither boisterous nor belligerent, but have a stinging subtlety best characterized by Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, Alexandra. “She’ll cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding” she said, as reported by The Washington Post.
Pelosi’s children would know best. Her former role as a fulltime homemaker and mother of five has shaped how she leads. “I became so energized and efficient in the use of time and willing to delegate, to the children, responsibilities,” she said. And her parenting experience may have helped her win over her caucus time and again. “She’s used to synchronized chaos,” her daughter Christine said. “She’s used to people wanting to be different and wanting to strive.”
Fans and critics alike enjoy looking for Easter eggs in Pelosi’s mannerisms and dress, like the symbolic mace brooch she wore to Joe Biden’s first joint address. Or her slight smirk while donning a red power coat and sunglasses that went viral after a contentious conversation with then-president Donald Trump, where she dared him to characterize the “strength that I bring to this meeting,” as noted by The New York Times.
But there are instances when the Speaker is not so subtle — like the time she tore up Trump’s speech at the 2020 State of the Union address, which left little to interpretation.
She's considered one of the most effective House Speakers in history
Nancy Pelosi has already made history as the first woman elected Speaker of the House. As The Washington Post reported in 2020, she reflected on political pioneers who came before her while at National Museum of American History’s centennial exhibit for women’s suffrage. “They were considered troublemakers in their time, so maybe there is a future for all of us,” she said. “But I can just tell you, a troublemaker with a gavel — that’s the real difference.”
Wielding the gavel has been a boon for Democrats, who have united under her leadership. Per Politico, she not only passed healthcare reform under President Barack Obama, but also groundbreaking legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act and Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform. She even repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — not to mention she twice impeached Donald Trump.
“She’s got an amazing reservoir of goodwill in the caucus,” Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist, told The Washington Post. “Who can do what she can do? The answer is nobody.”
This sweet fueled her Obamacare victory
During her first term as House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi was given the enormous task of pulling her caucus together for then-president Barack Obama’s biggest policy issue: healthcare reform. While it was a taxing undertaking, she pulled it off with a final 219-212 vote (per Congress.gov). When asked by a reporter, as noted by The New York Times, how she managed the grueling meetings and finally reached consensus on the bill, her answer was short but sweet: “Chocolate.”
Pelosi revealed she had strategically stashed Ghirardelli chocolates around her offices to help her get through the mad dash to the finish. Yes, Pelosi happily indulges in dark chocolate bars, truffles, and any other forms of the confection she can get her hands on. She’s even been known to eat it while exercising. “It’s okay to eat ice cream while you’re riding a bike,” she told HuffPost.
As far as what she loves most, she believes Belgian chocolate is the finest, and she will only eat one flavor from San Francisco-based candy company See’s: Nut and Chews.
Nancy Pelosi's a mega-fundraiser
Nancy Pelosi’s involvement in politics began with raising funds for candidates, and she’s only gotten better at it. According to Fox News, she has raised over $1 billion for the Democratic party since she entered her leadership position in the House in 2002. In those 20 years, she’s broken records, bringing in staggering sums, including an $87 million haul in 2019 alone. The Hill reported that she was highly active, holding 181 fundraising events in 54 cities. “Speaker Pelosi’s significant record-breaking fundraising haul for 2019 is a direct reflection of voters’ rising enthusiasm to expand our House Democratic Majority that’s been delivering meaningful progress #ForThePeople, take back the Senate and elect a Democratic President,” tweeted Pelosi’s campaign executive director Jorge Aguilar at the time.
Pelosi’s San Francisco seat isn’t exactly competitive, so where does all the cash go? Most of the funds are directed to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which helps elect House Democrats, and also flows to competitive races (per Blue Tent).
Along with her name recognition, it’s Pelosi’s style that brings in the big bucks. Politico reported that she hosts atypical events, like educational summits, that attract diverse donors. She’ll also personally contact donors and send handwritten notes to show her appreciation. “There are a lot of people in Congress who ask for money, and you don’t have any sense that they care. She is one of the most gracious people that you’ll ever meet,” one mega-donor said.
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