Pennsylvania’s New Speaker of the House Talks the Bible, Beyoncé, and the Big Lie

An interview with Joanna McClinton, the first woman to hold that office.

Joanna McClinton

Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton / Photograph by Stevie Chris

After she became the Speaker of the House in Pennsylvania, we sat down with Joanna McClinton to learn all about it.

My full name is … Joanna Elizabeth McClinton. “Elizabeth” is my mother’s best friend.

I grew up in … Southwest Philly, at 56th and Hadfield.

These days, I’m in … Cobbs Creek, West Philadelphia. Less than a mile from where I was born.

My district goes from … 63rd and Market to 58th and Woodland, and then over into Yeadon and Darby boroughs in Delaware County.

Working in Harrisburg can be … challenging — ­203 members of the House is a lot of members.

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be … a lawyer, a preacher, a hairdresser and an actress. I graduated with my JD from Villanova. I’m four classes shy of a Bible degree from seminary. I’ve done some stage plays, even after being elected. And I never had the chance to go to cosmetology school, but I was known to support my friends in college with their hairstyling needs.

On Sundays, you’ll find me at … Open Door Mission, my home church in West Philly. It’s Pentecostal.

I decided to get into politics … because I spent my life advocating for others — I was a trial lawyer with the Defender Association of Philadelphia for 10 years, and I’ve also been a youth minister — and I wanted to bring that experience to the state House to help my community.

My hero is … my mother, Rachel. She’s the epitome of resilience who has always exhibited compassion and love being action words.

When I heard that Wawa was finally opening a location in Sheetz-dominated Harrisburg, I thought … I can finally get a Sizzli on my way to the Capitol and it will still be hot when I get to work.

This summer, I hope to … take a few days off. Consecutively. Like three or more. Wouldn’t that be nice?

One song I always turn up is … “Be Alive,” by Beyoncé.

The farthest I’ve been from Philly was … Taiwan. In 2019, I went on a state mission trip.

When you say the name “Doug Mastriano,” I think … thank God he was defeated with such a large and decisive outcome.

When somebody tells me they want to run for public office, I say … be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly — and that’s just from the campaign.

The state of politics in this country is … on the mend. It’s also on the mend in Pennsylvania, which fell under the spell of the Big Lie and produced the most people arrested at the deadly insurrection.

I trust my hair to … Rimmy Sparkles, who used to be in West Philly but now works out of a salon in Bala Cynwyd.

My secret talent is that I can … really cook. My mother was a soul-food caterer. But I had no interest. Then one day, my uncle, who has since died, came to me and said, “Your mom is gonna die one day, and we’re never gonna eat good food again, so you need to learn how to cook.”

My favorite Bible verse is … Esther 4:16, which, at the end of the day, is about not being scared and going after what you want.


Published as “One of Us: Joanna McClinton” in the May 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.