Nancy Pelosi had been to the White House many times, but this meeting felt different.
It was 2003 and her first meeting with then-President George W. Bush as elected leader of the Democrats in Congress. “I had no apprehension about going to this meeting, my friends,” Pelosi said Monday speaking to a crowd at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Federal Airfield.
Still, she felt different. Not jitters, exactly, but something.
“I walked into the room, and then as I went into the room and the door closed behind me, in this small room at a small table with those people, I realized this was unlike any other meeting I’d ever been to in the White House,” Pelosi said. “In fact, it was unlike any meeting that any woman had ever been to at the White House.”
“I was there, not as an appointee of the president,” she said. “I was there, as elected by the Democrats in the Congress of the United States — a co-equal branch of government.”
As Bush welcomed her to the meeting, Pelosi said, “I was feeling really closed in in my chair. I mean, it was like, I’ve never had that sensation before or since. I was really crowded on my chair. And as (Bush) was being gracious and lovely, I was there, feeling pressed in on my chair.”
She continued: “And there was Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul. They were all on the chair — you name more — they were all on the chair. And I could hear them say: ‘At last, we have a seat at the table.’ ”
Pelosi, now Speaker of the House and the highest-ranking woman in U.S. government, spoke on Women’s Equality Day — the anniversary of the ratification in 1920 of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
“Those women could only have dreamed, in their wildest dreams, that there would be a woman speaker of the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, who spoke alongside Pelosi on Monday.
The event at NASA Ames also came as the space agency begins work, 50 years after the original Apollo moon landing, for what it hopes will be another lunar landing in 2024. This time, the mission, named for Apollo’s twin sister Artemis, will include female astronauts.
“As far as having a woman step foot on the moon, our hopes are riding on you,” Pelosi said, pointing with a smile to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who sat in the front row after delivering brief introductory remarks.
The event was hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and also featured two panel discussions between female leaders from the Bay Area business community.