Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the U.S. House on Thursday, thus becoming the most politically powerful woman in U.S. history.
"This is an historic moment, for the Congress, and for the women of this country," Pelosi, 66, noted in her sworn-in remarks on the 1st day of the 110th Congress.
"It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights," she reminded fellow members of the House.
As a result of the Democrats' victory in the midterm elections of last November, Pelosi was nominated by her party to be the House Speaker in December.
She is also the first Californian or Italian American to hold the post of the House Speaker.
The new post puts Pelosi second in line of the presidential succession, after Vice President Dick Cheney.
Even Pelosi's Republican competitor, John Boehner, acknowledged the historical significance of her election.
"It's an historic day for the House. And I think all Americans ought to be proud of the fact that Nancy Pelosi will, in fact, be the first woman speaker of the United States House of Representatives," he said.
An Italian American, Pelosi grew up in an environment closely related to politics.
Her father was a member of the House when she was born on March 26, 1940, in Baltimore, Maryland.
When she was seven, her father won the first of three terms as mayor of Baltimore.
However, Pelosi's political career started rather late and she had been a housewife for many years.
In 1969, Pelosi, after graduation from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., moved to San Francisco with her husband.
She only became active in party politics in late 1970s and was elected to a four-year term as California Democratic Party chair in 1981.
Pelosi first ran for and was elected to Congress in 1987.
She moved into the Democratic House leadership in October 2001 when she was selected minority whip, the party's No. 2 post.
In November 2002, after Democrats were defeated in their attempt to regain control of the House from the Republicans, then- Minority Leader Dick Gephardt stepped aside and Pelosi was chosen as the top Democrat in the House.
"No idea how tough she is"
Former congressman John Burton, one of Pelosi's political mentor, said political opponents will make a mistake thinking that because the new speaker is a woman they can steamroll over her.
"People think she's tough. They have no idea how tough she is," Burton said.
U.S. political analysts said Pelosi has a reputation of standing firm for "liberal cause", working notoriously hard, and is a highly successful fundraiser.
Pelosi is a fund-raising legend, having raised almost 100 million U.S. dollars for Democratic candidates since becoming House Democratic leader in 2002.
She holds humanitarian stances in many areas, including embryonic stem cell research, pro-choice views, minimum wage, Social Security, gay rights and public health policies.
In 2002, Pelosi voted against the Iraq War, and remains a vocal critic of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
In late 2005, she announced her support of Rep. John Murtha's proposal for U.S. troops to immediately withdraw from Iraq.
Analysts said Pelosi's tough style and anti-war views suggest she could be at odds with President George W. Bush on many issues.