WASHINGTON - Surrounded by kids as well as cheering lawmakers, Nancy Pelosi marveled aloud at her long journey "from the kitchen to the Congress."
Six times a grandmother, now second in line to the presidency, Pelosi said her ascension to become the first female House speaker in history was the culmination of 200 years of struggle for women as well as a personal victory.
"We have made history, now let us make progress for the American people," she said.
It was her coming-out to the nation, and Pelosi, 66, sought to introduce herself not only as the San Francisco liberal decried by Republicans, but as Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi, Italian-American Catholic, mother of five and native of gritty Baltimore, where her father was mayor.
She arrived on the House floor Thursday with all six grandchildren in tow, including baby Paul Michael Vos, born to her daughter Alexandra in November.
"I was raised in a large family that was devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, proud of our Italian-American heritage, and staunchly Democratic," Pelosi said. "My parents taught us that public service was a noble calling."
After her election by a vote of 233-202, the chamber's Democratic-Republican breakdown, a beaming Pelosi stood holding her sleeping infant grandson - who did not stir - and shook hands as she accepted congratulations from her fellow House members.
Minutes later, cheers erupted in the chamber as House Republican leader John Boehner handed her the speaker's gavel. Pelosi always has said she wants to be judged by her abilities, not her gender, but she happily acknowledged the importance of her achievement.
"By electing me as speaker you have brought us closer to the ideal of equality that is America's heritage and America's hope," Pelosi said. "This is an historic moment - for the Congress, and for the women of America. 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."
"For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling," she said. "For our daughters and our granddaughters now, the sky is the limit."
Boehner, in handing her the gavel, said: "For more than 200 years, the leaders of our government have been democratically elected. And from their ranks, our elected leaders have always selected a man for the responsibility and honor of serving as speaker of the House. Always, that is, until today."
Everywhere Pelosi went Thursday supporters marveled at her achievement, especially other women.
Outside the Library of Congress, leaders from the National Organization for Women greeted her with a giant congratulation card. The message: "Way to Go!"
Newly elected Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania brought his wife, Kelly, and daughters Natalie, 8, and Grace, 5, to witness Pelosi's swearing-in and to pose for photos with her.
"I'll make sure they understand the significance of it," Kelly Altmire said of her daughters. "I don't know if they get it yet, but they will."
Pelosi began her history-making day at a prayer service with her husband, Paul, at St. Peter's Catholic Church near the Capitol. She was met by a small knot of anti-abortion protesters carrying signs reading, "You can't be Catholic and pro-abortion." She walked by without acknowledging them.
She later attended a ceremonial swearing-in of the Congressional Black Caucus, where the incoming leader of the 43-member group, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., made clear the pressure the new speaker will face. "She must deliver because black people delivered that we might have this majority," Kilpatrick said.