I read this morning that Pat Schroeder, longtime United States Representative from Colorado, passed away Monday night at age 82, due to complications from a stroke.
I didn’t follow her life and career that closely, but I heard her name in the news several times over the years, and I knew she was someone significant in Congress.
To remind myself how significant, I read her obituary in the New York Times. I highly recommend you read it as well. Or any obituary of her you can find.
It’s the story of a fighter. And a champion.
If you don’t bother reading it, here are just some highlights:
She was a Harvard Law School graduate, one of 15 women in a class of over 500.
Before serving in Congress, she worked for the National Labor Relations Board, volunteered as counsel for Planned Parenthood and taught at the University of Colorado and Regis College.
She served as a representative of Colorado in the US House for 24 years, first elected in 1972, then re-elected 11 more times.
She was largely responsible for the passage of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, and laws regarding more equal treatment of women in education and the military.
She served on the House Armed Services Committee all her 24 years in Congress, where she crusaded for arms control and reducion of military spending, and worked to improve military benefits.
And she fought years of disrespect from her male colleagues in Congress. She began her career there as one of only 14 women in the House, and was sometimes dismissively called “Little Patsy.” When asked by one of them how she could serve while being a mother of two small children, she replied, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, Democrat from New York, succeeded Rep. Schroeder as chair of the bipartisan congressional caucus on women’s issues, and had this to say about her predecessor:
“Pat Schroeder blazed the trail. Every woman in this house is walking in her footsteps.”
Representative Pat Schroeder was a fearless, tireless example of a woman succeeding in a man’s world, but she knew when she retired there was still a long road ahead for women. She said at the time, “I think women still should never kid themselves that they’re going to come here and be part of the team.” (Source: LA Times)
Unfortunately, whatever progress may have happened in the intervening 29 years is still a long, long way from enough.
So here, in the middle of Women’s History Month, it’s incumbent upon us all to acknowledge the special place in that history occupied by Patricia Nell Schroeder.
And, more importantly, to carry on the work to which she so wholeheartedly dedicated herself.
Rest in peace, ma’am. Job well done.