Pat Schroeder, a pioneer for women’s and family rights in Congress who confronted and angered conservatives, has died. She was 82.
Schroeder’s former press secretary, Andrea Camp, said the former congresswoman suffered a stroke recently and died on Monday in Celebration, Florida.
Schroeder took on the elite for 24 years, shaking up institutions by forcing them to acknowledge women had a role in government. Her unorthodox methods cost her key committee posts but Schroeder said she wasn’t willing to join “the good old boys’ club”. Unafraid of embarrassing colleagues in public, she became a feminist hero.
Schroeder was elected in Colorado in 1972 and won re-election 11 times from a safe district in Denver. Despite her seniority, she was never appointed to lead a committee.
She helped forge several Democratic majorities before leaving in 1997. Her parting shot was a book, 24 Years of Housework … and the Place is Still a Mess: My Life in Politics.
In 1987, Schroeder tested the waters for the presidency, after her fellow Coloradan Gary Hart pulled out. Announcing she would not run, she said her heart was not in it and fundraising was demeaning.
Schroeder said legislators spent too much attention on donors. When in 1994 House Republicans gathered on the Capitol steps to celebrate 100 days in power, she and several aides climbed to the dome and hung a 15-ft red banner reading: “Sold.”
She was the first woman on the House armed services committee but was forced to share a seat with Ron Dellums of California, the first African American. Schroeder said the chair, F Edward Hebert of Louisiana, thought the committee was no place for a woman or an African American and they were each worth only half a seat.
Republicans were livid when Schroeder and others filed an ethics complaint over a televised lecture series given by the speaker, Newt Gingrich, charging that free cable time amounted to an illegal gift. Gingrich became the first speaker reprimanded by Congress. He said he regretted not taking Schroeder and her allies more seriously.
According to her House biography, Schroeder once told Pentagon officials that if they were women, they would always be pregnant because they never said no.
Asked by one congressman how she could be a mother of two small children and a congresswoman, she replied: “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.”
It was Schroeder who branded Ronald Reagan the Teflon president for his ability to avoid blame.
One of her biggest victories was the signing of a family leave bill in 1993, providing job protection for care of a newborn, sick child or parent.
“Pat Schroeder blazed the trail,” said Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who took over from Schroeder as chair of the congressional caucus on women’s issues. “Every woman in this house is walking in her footsteps.”
A pilot, Schroeder earned her way through Harvard law school with her own flying service. She became a professor at Princeton and led the Association of American Publishers. But she continued working in politics after moving to Florida. She campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Schroeder was born in Portland, Oregon, on 30 July 1940. She graduated from the University of Minnesota before earning her law degree. From 1964 to 1966 she was a field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board.
She is survived by her husband, James W Schroeder, whom she married in 1962, their children, Scott and Jamie, her brother, Mike Scott, and four grandchildren.
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