Remembering Patricia Schroeder, the 'trailblazing feminist' former congresswoman

Schroeder, a longtime advocate for the women's rights movement, died of complications from a stroke

Patricia Schroeder testifying before House Budget Committee in 1980
(Image credit: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images)

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Former U.S. Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, a longtime advocate for the women's rights movement who The Washington Post says was "known for her barbed wit," died on Mar. 13 in a hospital in Celebration, Fla., at the age of 82. Her daughter, Jamie Cornish, confirmed that complications from a stroke were the cause.

Schroeder became a pilot at 15 and used the income from her flying service to pay her way through university. She later became a Harvard-trained attorney before becoming the first woman elected to Congress from Colorado in 1972. During her 24-year tenure in the House of Representatives, Schroeder became a household name, "notably coining the term 'Teflon president' to lambaste President Ronald Reagan," the Post adds.

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She was "a trailblazing feminist legislator who helped redefine the role of women in American politics and used her wit to combat egregious sexism in Congress," The New York Times wrote. When one lawmaker questioned how Schroeder, who was a mother of two when she arrived in Washington, could handle being a wife, mother, and congressman, she replied, "I have a brain and a uterus, and I use them both."

'The greatest feminist of my time'

When Schroeder began her long career as a legislator, there were only 14 women in the House, "several of whom were widows filling out the terms of their deceased husbands," the Post explained. She described the chamber as "an overaged frat house." Still, Schroeder stepped into the role and did not hesitate to call out instances of feminism in the male-dominated institution.

Throughout her 12 terms in the house, she became an outspoken advocate for various issues, including women and family rights and military policy. She was appointed a seat on the Armed Services Committee, which at the time was composed of all men. "When men talk about defense, they always claim to be protecting women and children, but they never ask the women and children what they think," she said, according to a House biography. She served on that committed for all 24 years in Congress, calling for arms control and cutting back on military spending.

From 1979 to 1995, she co-chaired the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to pushing legislation on reproductive rights, equality for women, and "workplace flexibility for parents," per the Post. She helped pass the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act and was a "driving force" behind the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the Times writes. She also "championed laws that helped reform spousal pensions, opened military jobs to women, and forced federally funded medical researchers to include women in their studies."

After the Democrats lost control of the House in 1994, and she had been in the minority for two years, Schroeder decided to retire, a decision the Times says "upset many Democrats." "She was the coach, the leader, the strategist," former Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) told the Post in 1995 after Schroeder announced her retirement. "She was, by far, the greatest feminist of my time."

Always an advocate

Schroeder briefly taught at Princeton before taking on the role of president and chief operating officer of the Association of American Publishers for 11 years. While there, she spoke out against Google's plan to digitize copyrighted books, arguing that the company was "seeking to make millions of dollars by freeloading on the talent and property of authors and publishers."

After retiring to Florida with her husband, she continued to "advocate for the causes that had always animated her, like improving family life and caring for the planet, just as she had imagined doing," the Times writes.

"In my dotage, rocking on my porch, I will probably be faxing or emailing or communicating by whatever 21st-century method I cannot even fathom about social wrongs that need to be righted," she wrote in her 1998 book, 24 Years of House Work and the Place Is Still a Mess.

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