Pat Schroeder, who served the House for the state of Colorado for more than two decades and focused on women’s rights issues, died Monday in a hospital in Florida after having a stroke at age 82.
Schroeder spent 24 years as a Democrat in the House, where she fought for women’s and family issues until 1997 when she retired.
When she was first elected in 1973, there were only 14 women serving in the House, and several of them were widows serving out their late husbands’ terms.
As a frame of reference, in 2023 there are 125 women serving in the House.
Champion of women’s issues
She co-chaired the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues for almost 20 years. The group was bipartisan and focused on reproductive rights, women’s equity issues, and workplace flexibility for parents.
Many of the current protections for abused women and children were put in place by Schroeder and her colleagues, along with family leave policies and non-discrimination policies that protect women in the workplace.
At the beginning of her time in office, most women did not have careers outside raising their children and taking care of the home.
Women who did work outside the home were usually paid less than men for the same job, and daycare for children was often substandard.
Schroeder was raised in a home where her father told her she could do anything, so she did. She became a pilot at age 15 and used her skills to pay her tuition to college and law school.
She was known to have a sharp wit and had many memorable one-liners. When asked whether she would be able to do the job of lawmaker while raising children, she said, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.”
She coined the term “Teflon president” to describe Ronald Reagan after getting the idea while making eggs for her children’s breakfast on a Teflon pan.
Schroeder often lamented how long it seemed to take to get anything done in Washington, especially for a woman. Her memoir after leaving office was titled, “24 Years of Housework … and the Place is Still a Mess. My Life in Politics.″
How things have changed
Schroeder was the foremother, so to speak, of the current women’s movement. She served at a time when women still acknowledged that being a wife and mother was a valuable thing, even if they wanted more.
Her views at the time seemed radical, but now they seem quite tame. If the movement had stopped there, it would probably have a lot more support than it does now.