Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters

Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters

by Nancy Pelosi

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“Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and our granddaughters today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters now the sky is the limit.” —Nancy Pelosi, after being sworn in as Speaker of the House


When Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker of the House, she made history. Now she continues to inspire women everywhere in this thought-provoking collection of wise words-her own and those of the important people who played pivotal roles in her journey. In this compelling book, she encourages mothers and grandmothers, daughters and granddaughters to never lose faith, to speak out and make their voices heard, to focus on what matters most and to follow their dreams wherever they may lead.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385526944
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/29/2008
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 32,450
File size: 300 KB

About the Author

Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House in 2007 after serving twenty years in Congress. She and her husband, Paul, have been married for forty-five years. She is the mother of five children and the grandmother of seven. She divides her time between Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, California.

Read an Excerpt

Never L o s e Fa i t h
It was a cold day in January 1987 when I said goodbye to Sala. I didn’t know it at the time–or perhaps I simply wasn’t ready to accept it–but my friend was dying.

Sala Burton was a Congresswoman from California whom I had known, along with her late husband, Phillip, for many years. She was one of the women I admired most, as well as a close friend.

Everyone respected Sala and knew not to underestimate her. She looked like Mother Earth; she spoke with a Polish accent; she didn’t drive a car. She gave off an intense warmth–if she liked you. She was passionate about what she believed in, but very dispassionate about her

Sala was like family to me. She loved my children and was especially close to my two oldest daughters, Nancy Corinne and Christine. Nancy Corinne started at Mount Vernon College in Washington shortly after Sala went to Congress, and called us one day to say that she needed
a car.

“Why do you think you should have a car in college?” my husband, Paul, and I asked. With five children, providing each one with a car in college was not in the budget. “I need a car for Sala,” Nancy Corinne said. “I have to drive Sala around.”

So we sent our old Jeep Wrangler from San Francisco. It was quite a sight to see Nancy Corinne driving the dignified Sala Burton around Washington in a car with removable windows.

A couple of years later, Sala became ill with cancer. We thought she could win any battle. But this was one she could not.

And so the time came to say goodbye. Anyone who has ever visited a friend who is dying will know how hard it is. What was astonishing to me, however, was her selflessness. Despite my protests, what she wanted most to talk about was me.

A circle of her friends, whom she had summoned, gathered around her bed. Solemnly she announced the sad news: She would not be seeking reelection because she was very ill. She then turned to me and asked me to run for her seat. She wanted me to accept her endorsement
on the spot.

“Sala, please don’t talk this way,” I said. “You’re breaking my heart.”

I still held out hope that she would get better. Finally she convinced me that my agreement was the only answer that would bring her comfort, and so, with great sadness, I promised I would run for Congress.

I often look back on that day in wonder.

We all admired Sala’s strength and grace, but what was striking was the faith she had in me. Sometimes it takes the encouragement of someone who knows us well to propel us forward in ways we never would have dreamed. I was confident in my abilities and accomplishments, but Sala’s faith in me was so unshakable that it made me determined to live up to it.

And so I ran for Congress–and won. I was forty-seven years old, a mother of five, happily married, and never–not even once–thinking or wanting this to happen to me.

In the campaign, I had to face many challenges. Like many women, I was hesitant to talk about myself and my achievements, but I became much more at ease because I believed deeply in everything I said about the issues.

What lifts you up, what helps you to grow, is the excitement of the people around you. When I announced my candidacy in mid-February that year, I walked into the ILWU union hall expecting to see a few friends and reporters; instead, there was a large, enthusiastic crowd. Their support made me determined to win, not just for myself but for all of them.

Twenty years later, as I was sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House, faith again was very much on my mind. I thought of all the women throughout American history who’d had faith that one day we would achieve equality with men.

As I accepted the gavel from Republican Leader John Boehner, I told my colleagues:

“This is an historic moment–for the Congress, and for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited over two hundred years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights.

“But women weren’t just waiting; they were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. . . .

“We have made history, now let us make progress.”

D e c l a ra t i o n s o f I n d e p e n d e n c e

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Capitol. It was on a cold January day in 1947, when I was six years old. The occasion was my father’s swearing-in ceremony for his fifth term in Congress.

My brothers were excited. As our car approached the Capitol, they kept saying, “Nancy, look at the Capitol.” I said I didn’t see any capitals. They insisted, and finally I asked, “Is it a capital A, B, or C?” As we drove closer, my brother Joey turned my head toward the most amazing sight.

I didn’t see the giant letters I expected. Instead, I saw a stunning building with a magnificent white dome. I still think it’s the most beautiful building in the world because of what it represents: the voice of the people.

Whether to view it as the world’s greatest symbol of democracy, to serve in it as a Representative of the people, or to preside over it as the Speaker of the House, any association with the Capitol is exciting.

To this day, I feel a strong connection to my father whenever I’m on the floor of the House, imagining what it must have been like for him to be one of the earliest Italian Americans to serve there. My father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was a U.S. Congressman from Maryland,
first elected in 1938 as a New Deal Democrat loyal to FDR. He later served as the Mayor of Baltimore for twelve years. My mother, Nancy (Annunciata in Italian) Lombardi, so named because she was born on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, was my father’s teammate
every step of the way.

Both of my parents were raised in Baltimore’s Little Italy, as was I. My father’s mother was born in Baltimore–his grandparents were from Venice and Genoa. His father was from Abruzzi.

My mother’s father was born in Campobasso and her mother in Sicily. They met in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and raised their family in Baltimore.

It was into this large Italian American family that I was born, the only daughter after six sons. We were devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, proud of our Italian American heritage, and staunchly Democratic.

Those views were shared by our neighbors. Diversity in Little Italy was based on what part of Italy your family was from. Every region and food of Italy was represented in our neighborhood–Genovese, Napolitano, Abruzzese, Veneziano, Romano, Piemontese, Toscano, Siciliano, and more.

Growing up in Little Italy impressed upon me the vitality immigrants bring to America. With their courage, optimism, and determination to make the future better for their families, they fulfill the American dream. They made America stronger. That has been true throughout American history, and it is true today.

My father was twenty-five and already a member of the Maryland State Legislature when he noticed a beautiful nineteen-year-old woman leaving St. Leo’s Church one Sunday morning. He followed her down the street and, when she stopped at a corner, went up to her and asked for a date.

My mother’s response was to tell the dapper legislator that she didn’t know who he was and that she would not go out on a date unless her grandmother approved. Hence Daddy’s courtship of Mommy’s grandmother.

Apparently he passed inspection because my mother and he were married in a wedding that was a traffic stopping event in Baltimore. All of the members of the Baltimore Police and Fire Departments were invited.

Daddy’s introduction to government began at the age of eight, when his mother took him to the 1912 Democratic Convention, not far from their home in Little Italy. I can imagine Daddy’s thrill at hearing the roars coming from inside the Fifth Regiment Armory, where William Jennings Bryan nominated the soon-to-be President Woodrow Wilson, who won the nomination on the forty-sixth ballot.

When he was old enough to vote, my father cast his first vote ever for himself in a successful election to the Maryland House of Delegates. He went from there to the Baltimore City Council and then on to Congress before serving as Mayor.

My father was a phenomenal natural politician, handsome, and charismatic. With his piercing blue eyes, pencil thin moustache, and trademark polka-dot bow ties, he cut a dashing figure. He was a talented dancer and a brilliant orator. Although he did not have much formal education, he was clever and determined. He was very knowledgeable in a number of areas, especially public policy.

Except for his earliest years in politics, my mother was his partner. She was smart, and she had a sense of justice that became a driving force in our family’s life. I often think she was born fifty years too soon. The truth is that my father and the times held her back.

Now, my father was a wonderful man with an enormous heart, very charming and smart, very loyal, a public servant in the truest sense. While he was forward-thinking and progressive, and appreciated the growing role women were playing in politics, he was bound by the old traditions when it came to his own family. My father did not even want me to cut my long hair when I was a young teenager.

My mother was a wonderful wife and parent, and she was also an entrepreneur and a visionary. She started law school but had to stop when three of her sons had whooping
cough at the same time. She made astute investments, but Daddy would not sign off on them (which, sadly, would have been necessary at the time). She had a patent on the first device to apply steam to the face, which she called Velvex–Beauty by Vapor. It was her brainchild,
and she had customers throughout the United States, but Daddy wanted her close to home.

Despite her frequent clashes of will with Daddy, she loved her marriage, though I think it’s fair to say she didn’t recommend marrying young. Whenever she heard that a young woman was getting married, she’d say, “I don’t know why she’s rushing into this. She has all this talent, all this spirit and intelligence–why does anyone have to get married so young?”

Of course, she was thinking back over her own life. She had dreams of her own, and part of what makes me so receptive to new possibilities, I suspect, is knowing that she could not pursue hers.

I learned to assert my independence early. I’m not saying I was particularly rebellious, but with all of those older brothers, I did have to find ways to hold my own.

One of our family stories involves my brother Joey and me at our father’s first inauguration as Mayor of Baltimore. We all went to City Hall, and my parents and the three older boys were busy greeting guests. My brothers Hector and Joey and I were ushered into a side room to draw and color until the ceremony began.

We, like all families, had a steadfast rule that the children were never allowed to speak to strangers. When a tall, distinguished gentleman came into the room and said, “Hello, how are you?” I would not utter a word in reply.

“Your father is going to be the Mayor. Isn’t that exciting?”
he said.

Still not a word from me, but my brothers were saying,

“It’s all right, we can say hello.” It turned out that the gentleman was Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, the outgoing Mayor of Baltimore, and we were in his private office.

Joey said to me that he was going to tell Mommy that I was not polite to the Mayor.

“If you do,” I said calmly, “I will tell Mommy that you talked to a stranger.”

I had just turned seven, and Joey was nine. I didn’t squeal on him, and because I’d earned his respect, he didn’t squeal on me.

I had just built my first strategic alliance.

Reading Group Guide

1. Before reading KNOW YOUR POWER, what did you know about Nancy Pelosi’s life or career? Did you discover anything that surprised you?

2. Speaker Pelosi writes in the Preface, “The skills I acquired as a homemaker and mother have been invaluable to me. These same skills are transferable to many other arenas in life, including the United States Congress.” What skills does Speaker Pelosi refer to? What kinds of “mom skills” do you think can become “job skills?”

3. Speaker Pelosi touchingly recalls the encouragement of her mentor, Sala Burton, to run for Congress. Do you have someone in your life that has encouraged you to follow your dreams?

4. What does the book’s title mean to you? As a woman, of what do you think your power is comprised? How do you wield it?

5. Speaker Pelosi discusses how she and her fellow female representatives pushed out the “old boy” attitudes that, until very recently, were pervasive among her male colleagues in Congress. In what other sectors of working life—corporate America, academia, etc.—does sexism still exist? Can it be overcome?

6. What roles do women occupy, or have they occupied, in your family? Did you have older female relatives who worked while raising a family?

7. In the book Speaker Pelosi offers much advice for women; what did you think of it? Does she write about anything with which you might disagree?

8. What are some of the more memorable anecdotes Speaker Pelosi shares, whether from her Congressional career or other aspects of her life?

9. Of the ways her mother helped support the political career of Speaker Pelosi’sfather, she says of her mother, “She, too, was a public servant. She was not paid, and she held no elected or appointed position, but she considered it part of her duty to contribute what she could,” [page 22]. Discuss the yin and yang of marriage, the compromise and teamwork it
requires. How did Speaker Pelosi and her husband balance out his career with hers? Was it surprising to learn that Speaker Pelosi didn’t run for office until her five children were grown?

10. Do you have female role models? Who are they, and why are they such important women for you?

Customer Reviews

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Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
SusanSSS More than 1 year ago
I loved the book. I was surprised by the negative reactions to the book from other reviewers. Not only did Pelosi go from being a homemaker and mother of five for 20 years to eventually becoming Speaker of the House, but she did it without a law degree. And she did it with integrity. She has not been part of any big scandals. I think she represents the women of the US very well. She is very focused on issues that concern women, and yet she is broad enough in her views to be helpful to all Americans. Also, there is a philosophy that one can judge a lot about a person by how their children turn out. Her children are all assets to her and the country. Further, she has maintained her marriage for 45 years. She is a true American treasure. Who could inspire us more?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't know what I expected to read in this book. It was a well written book, I will give Mrs. Pelosi that, and her accomplishments in life are certainly worthy and admirable. I guess I thought it was going to be more of an inspirational book for women. A book about women's empowerment. It was her story and her politics. Naively, I didn't expect the strong political theme and it was dissappointing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pelosi gives continuously the power to the youth of the country never forgetting from whence she came. This book was the one book I put to the side and didn't read immediately how unimpowered I was for that time. Young women, college students, even disadvantaged people of all ages, races, socio-economic backgrounds should read this wonderful LIGHT OF POWER.
bugs5 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pretty good book. I always like to read about women who have accomplished a lot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
discourseincsharpminor More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected. For someone so polorizing I had expected a more guarded book, but it was as frank and open as a political biography can be while the subject is still in office. If you hate her already, she won't change your mind with this book, but if there is a soul out there who hasn't cast their opinion of Nancy Pelosi in iron yet, you might find her a lot more human and 'normal' after reading this.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book does not saying anything that mothers have not been saying to their daughter's for the past 2 decades. While it is well-written, this is a rehash of every 'empowerment' book out there. The only thing new is personal information about Nancy. While I admire what she accomplished in the past, her current actions seem opposite of what is written and therefore, I will not encourage my 3 teenage daughters to read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pelosi is a role model for all women! Great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
So glad Pelosi had the time to write this in midst of leading a majority in Congress with the lowest approval rating in its history. What she doesn't talk about are her real feelings about leadership, like turning off the lights and microphones on the House floor while elected members are trying to discuss voting on important issues for the people. Just like this book, she only cares about her image and power.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nothing motivational or substantive for my daughter, just inane political tripe.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm glad I didn't buy this book, it was given to me by a friend who wanted my honest opinion. Though I tried to find some redeeming passages, some worthwhile insights ... anything positive...I could not.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading most of MS Pelosi's book, I found that it was self-serving,poorly written and an insult to every American.