House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the late former first lady Betty Ford were among nine inductees honored today at the 24th Women's Hall of Fame ceremony.
The award, which showcases the achievements and lives of American women in the arts, athletics, business, education, government, humanities, philanthropy and science, is hosted biennually in Seneca Falls, N.Y., where the nation's first known women's rights convention was held in 1848.
On the 165th anniversary of that convention, Pelosi, was honored for her role in "breaking the marble ceiling" of the capitol as the first female speaker in the House of Representatives and the first woman to lead a major political party in Congress.
After inviting colleagues and fellow congresswomen onto stage to accept her award with her, Pelosi, 73, said it was important to increase the level of participation of women in politics.
"Incrementalism is not working for us. It's nice to keep adding numbers, but we want more," she said. "We have to make our own environment.
"If you reduce the role of money in politics, and increase the role of civility in politics, you elect many more women to public office," Pelosi added. "That is something that will be very wholesome to our country."
Pelosi recognized her colleagues' contributions and roles in passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Affordable Care Act, joking that "Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing medical condition."
She also mentioned "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds," an economic agenda Pelosi and fellow House Democrats launched this year based on the 165th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention.
Former Secretary of State and 2005 Hall inductee, Hillary Clinton, congratulated this year's inductees in a video message, paying special respects to former first lady Betty Ford whom Clinton described as "truly a great American and an inspiration."
Ford, who died in 2011, was introduced by friend and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, also a former Hall inductee.
"I nominated Betty to pay tribute to this remarkable woman, considered by many to have been the most politically active and candid first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt," Carter said via video message. "She used the influence of her position to change the nation's attitudes about breast cancer, about equal rights and about treatment for addiction."
Carter sent her regards to Ford's family and daughter, Susan Ford Bales, who accepted the medallion on her mother's behalf.
"This would have meant so much to my mom," said Ford Bales in an emotional speech that recalled the former first lady's battle with breast cancer as well as struggles with alcohol and painkillers, "particularly for being recognized with this extraordinary group of other inductees."
Those inductees included: Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870), who founded the first all-female school of higher learning in 1821 in Troy, N.Y.; professional midwife Ina May Gaskin, 73, known as the "mother of authentic midwifery"; horse racing jockey Julie Krone, 50; financial historian Anna Jacobson Schwartz (1915-2012); feminist activist, writer, visual artist, filmmaker, teacher and human rights advocate Kate Millett, 79; Mother Mary Joseph Rogers (1882-1955), founder of the Maryknoll Sisters; and Bernice Resnick Sandler, 85, an advocate of educational equity for women and girls.
"The 2013 inductees again represent the spirit of Seneca Falls and the groundbreaking events that inspired the nation and the world," said co-president of the board of directors, Beverly Ryder, when she announced this year's class.
The Hall's website states that "Nominees may be contemporary or historical," and that their "contribution(s) should be of national or global importance and of enduring value."
The new inductees join 247 other women that have been honored since the Hall was founded in 1969, including suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, tennis pro Billie Jean King, astronaut Sally Ride and actress Lucille Ball.