Patricia Schroeder, a trailblazing feminist legislator who helped redefine the role of women in American politics, passed away on Monday, March 13, 2023, in Celebration, Florida. She was 82 years old. Her daughter, Jamie Cornish, said her death was attributed to complications of a stroke.
Ms. Schroeder was a Harvard-trained lawyer and pilot who had a long and distinguished career in the House of Representatives. She was the first woman elected to Congress from Colorado and the first to serve on the Armed Services Committee. During her 24-year tenure in Congress, she championed women's rights and played a crucial role in passing landmark legislation, including the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and laws that reformed spousal pensions, opened military jobs to women, and forced federally funded medical researchers to include women in their studies.
Ms. Schroeder also worked to improve benefits for military personnel and called for arms control and reduced military spending. She was a driving force behind allowing women to fly combat missions, and the first female fighter pilot flew in combat in 1995. Her accomplishments in Congress earned her praise from supporters and disdain from critics on the right, including Lt. Col. Oliver North, who called her one of the nation's 25 most dangerous politicians.
Ms. Schroeder's career was not without challenges. When she arrived on Capitol Hill, she faced blatant discrimination and was often dismissed as "Little Patsy," despite being relatively tall. Representative F. Edward Hebert, the powerful chairman of the Armed Services Committee, made her sit in the same chair with an African American representative at their first committee meeting in 1973, claiming that women and minorities were worth only half of one "regular" member. Ms. Schroeder fought back with her sharp rhetorical skills, and her wit became her trademark.
One of the most enduring public images of Ms. Schroeder is of her crying when she announced in 1987 that she would not run for president, as her supporters had hoped. The episode dismayed some feminists, who said her tears had reinforced stereotypes and set back the cause of women seeking office. However, Ms. Schroeder herself later wrote that "it was my tears, not my words, that got the headlines."
Ms. Schroeder was an inspiration to many, and her accomplishments paved the way for future generations of women in politics. She will be remembered as a tireless advocate for women's rights and a powerful force for change in American politics.