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Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, pioneer for women’s rights, dies at 82

Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder
Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder of Colorado speaks to a reporter at the Los Angeles Convention Center in April 1999.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)
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Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, a pioneer for women’s and family rights in Congress, died Monday night. She was 82.

Schroeder’s former press secretary, Andrea Camp, said Schroeder suffered a stroke recently and died at a hospital in Celebration, Fla., the city where she had been residing in recent years.

Schroeder took on the powerful elite with her rapier wit and antics for 24 years, shaking up stodgy government institutions by forcing them to acknowledge that women had a role in government.

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Her unorthodox methods cost her important committee posts, but Schroeder said she wasn’t willing to join what she called “the good old boys’ club” just to score political points. Unafraid of embarrassing her congressional colleagues in public, she became an icon for the feminist movement.

Schroeder was elected to Congress in Colorado in 1972 and became one of its most influential Democrats as she won reelection 11 times easily from her safe district in Denver. Despite her seniority, she was never appointed to head a committee.

Schroeder helped forge several Democratic majorities before deciding in 1997 that it was time to leave. Her parting shot in 1998 was a book titled “24 Years of Housework ... and the Place Is Still a Mess. My Life in Politics,″ which chronicled her frustration with male domination and the slow pace of change in federal institutions.

No prominent Republican is vying for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

March 10, 2023

In 1987, Schroeder tested the waters for the presidency, mounting a fundraising drive after fellow Coloradan Gary Hart pulled out of the race. She announced tearfully three months later that she would not run and said her “tears signify compassion, not weakness.” Her heart was not in it, she said, and she thought fundraising was demeaning.

She was the first woman on the House Armed Services Committee but was forced to share a chair with Rep. Ron Dellums of Northern California, the first African American, when committee Chairman F. Edward Hebert (D-La.) organized the panel. Schroeder said Hebert thought the committee was no place for a woman or an African American and they were each worth only half a seat.

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Republicans were livid after Schroeder and others filed an ethics complaint over House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s televised college lecture series. The complaint alleged that the free cable time Gingrich received amounted to an illegal gift under House rules. Gingrich became the first speaker reprimanded by Congress, and said later he regretted not taking Schroeder and her colleagues more seriously.

Earlier, she had blasted Gingrich for suggesting that women shouldn’t serve in combat because they could get infections from being in a ditch for 30 days. According to her official House biography, she once told Pentagon officials that if they were women, they would always be pregnant because they never said “no.″

President Clinton with Rep. Pat Schroeder
President Clinton with Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) at a ceremony honoring community heroes from flood-afflicted states in August 1993.
(Stephan Savoia / Associated Press)

Asked by one congressman how she could be a mother of two small children and a member of Congress at the same time, she replied, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.″

It was Schroeder who branded President Reagan the “Teflon” president for his ability to avoid blame for major policy decisions, and the name stuck.

One of Schroeder’s biggest victories was the signing of a family-leave bill in 1993, providing job protection during care of a newborn, a sick child or a parent.

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“Pat Schroeder blazed the trail. Every woman in this house is walking in her footsteps,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who took over from Schroeder as Democratic chair of the bipartisan congressional caucus on women’s issues.

Schroeder said legislators spent too much attention on contributors and special interests. When House Republicans gathered on the U.S. Capitol steps to celebrate their first 100 days in power in 1994, she and several aides clambered to the building’s dome and hung a 15-foot red banner reading, “Sold.”

A pilot, Schroeder earned her way through Harvard Law School with her own flying service. Schroeder became a professor at Princeton after leaving Congress but said that politics was in her blood and that she would continue working for candidates she supported.

For a while, she taught a graduate-level course titled “The Politics of Poverty.” She also headed the Assn. of American Publishers.

Schroeder continued working in politics after moving to Florida, going door to door, speaking to groups and mentoring candidates. She was politically active for issues and candidates across the country and campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Among other activities, she served on the board of the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

Pat McCormick, famed Seal Beach diver who won gold medals in the sport at the 1952 and 1956 Summer Olympic Games, has died at the age of 92.

March 10, 2023

Schroeder was born in Portland, Ore., on July 30, 1940. She graduated from the University of Minnesota before earning her law degree in 1964. From 1964 to 1966, she was a field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board.

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She is survived by her husband, James W. Schroeder, whom she married in 1962. Also surviving are their two children, Scott and Jamie, and her brother, Mike Scott, as well as four grandchildren.

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