Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, a pioneer for women’s and family rights in Congress, died Monday night. He was 82 years old.
Schroeder’s former press secretary, Andrea Camp, said Schroeder suffered a stroke recently and died at a hospital in Florida, the state where she lived.
Schroeder confronted the powerful elite with her sharpest wit and antics for 24 years, shaking up the indigestible institutions of government by forcing them to acknowledge that women had a role in government.
Her unorthodox methods cost her important committee seats, but Schroeder said she wasn’t willing to join what she called “the good old boys’ club” just to score political points. Unafraid to publicly embarrass her colleagues in Congress, she became an icon of the feminist movement.
Schroeder was elected to Congress from Colorado in 1972 and became one of the most influential Democrats as she easily won re-election 11 times from her safe Denver district. Despite her seniority, she was never appointed head of a committee.
Schroeder helped build several Democratic majorities before deciding in 1997 that it was time to go. Her exit plan in 1998 was a book titled “24 years of domestic work … and the place is still a mess. My Life in Politics’, which chronicled her frustration with male dominance and the slow pace of change in federal institutions.
In 1987, Schroeder tested the waters for the presidency, organizing a fundraising effort after fellow Coloradoan Gary Hart dropped out of the race. Three months later she announced she would not run and said her “tears are of compassion, not weakness”. Her heart wasn’t in it, she said, and she thought fundraising was humiliating.
She was the first woman on the House Armed Services Committee, but had to share a chair with U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums, R-Calif., the first African-American, when committee chairman F. Edward Hebert, D-La., organized the table. Schroeder said Hebert believed the commission was no place for a woman or an African-American, and each deserved only half the seat.
Republicans were excited when Schroeder and others filed an ethics complaint about House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s televised college lecture series, charging that the free time he received from the cable amounted to an illegal gift under House rules. Gingrich became the first speaker to rebuke Congress. Gingrich later said he regretted not taking Schroeder and her colleagues more seriously.
Earlier, she had blasted Gingrich for suggesting that women should not serve in combat because they could become infected by standing in a trench for 30 days. According to the official House biography, he once told Pentagon officials that if they were women, they would always be pregnant because they never said no.
Asked by a congressman how she could be a mother of two young children and a member of Congress at the same time, she replied: “I have a brain and a womb and I use both.”
It was Schroeder who called President Ronald Reagan the “Teflon” president for his ability to shirk responsibility 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 for caring for a newborn, a sick child or a parent.
“Pat Schroeder blazed the trail. Every woman in this house is walking in her footsteps,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, DN.Y., who took over from Schroeder as the Democratic chair of the bipartisan congressional committee on women.
Schroeder said lawmakers paid too much attention to contributors and special interests. When House Republicans gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to celebrate their first 100 days in office in 1994, she and several aides climbed the building’s dome and hung a 15-foot red banner that read “Sold.”
A pilot, Schroeder earned her way into Harvard Law School with her own flight service. Schroeder became a professor at Princeton University after leaving Congress, but said politics was in her blood and that she would continue to work for the candidates she supported.
For a while, he taught a graduate-level course called “The Politics of Poverty.” He was also head of the Association of American Publishers.
He later moved to Florida, where he continued to be involved in politics.
Schroeder was born in Portland, Oregon, on July 30, 1940. She was a pilot who paid her way through college with her own flight service. He graduated from the University of Minnesota before earning his law degree in 1964. From 1964 to 1966, he was an attorney with the National Labor Relations Board.
She married James W. Schroeder in 1962. The couple had two children, Scott and Jamie.
Former Associated Press writer Stephen K. Paulson contributed to this report.