MAKERS Profile

Pat Schroeder

Former Congresswoman (D-Colorado)

In this video

Schroeder on the conflicting ideals for women throughout her education, running for Congress in Denver, her decision to take on women and family issues, and what weight the next generation must carry with them. 
Pat Schroeder is a former United States Congresswoman who served on the House of Representatives for 24 years. Initially dismissed by colleagues on Capitol Hill because of her gender, Schroeder became a force to be reckoned with. From arms control to women and family, she took on many popular liberal issues as well as those she felt she was responsible for as one of the rare women representatives. She did so with her unique wit and biting tongue.   Born into a military family that moved from post-to-post, Schroeder grew up in Texas, Ohio, and Iowa. Unaware of the gender barriers she would eventually experience, Schroeder earned a pilot’s license and operated her own flying service to pay for tuition at the University of Minnesota. By the time she got to Harvard Law School, as one of 15 women in the class of more than 500, Schroeder became well acquainted with sexism. The dean outright told the women in the class he did not want them there. Despite the dean’s personal feelings, Schroeder earned her J.D. in 1964 and moved out to Denver, Colorado with her husband.   After practicing as field attorney for the federal government, with the encouragement of her husband, Schroeder entered the 1972 congressional race. Leading a grassroots campaign with an average contribution of $7.50, voters embraced her antiwar and women’s rights message. With 52 percent of the vote, Schroeder became the first woman elected to Congress from Colorado. She would go on to win 11 more elections, typically garnering more than 60 percent of the vote and little opposition.   Getting to Washington was only half the battle. As a 32-year-old mother with two young children, Schroeder fielded endless questions about how she could be both a mother and member of Congress. Her most memorable retort was: “I have a brain, I have a uterus, and they both work.”   Schroeder’s long list of accomplishments in Congress include being the first woman to serve on the Armed Services Committee, crafting the 1985 Military Family Act, cofounding the Congressional Women’s Caucus, and putting women’s rights and family reform in the spotlight with the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The legislation provided covered workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for the care of a new child or sick family member.   After her 24 years in Congress, Schroeder taught briefly at Princeton University and was appointed president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers in June 1997.

More From Pat

Nightmare of Harvard Law
Schroeder talks about how while her undergraduate years in Minnesota were wonderful, her years at Harvard Law were filled with overt sexism.

They Said "No" to Jackie Kennedy
Schroeder recalls the moment she realized women's progress was going to be incredibly challenging: being present when a group of senators denied First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy request for the bicentennial. 

Two Full Time Jobs and a Cake to Bake
Schroeder on how the Women's Movement opened the door for working women, but how so many still feel they need to go home and "bake bread."

Any Excuse But Family
Schroeder talks about chairing Children, Youth, and Family committee and discovering that people were generally uncomfortable raising family-related issues in the workplace.

Why Didn't Your Husband Run?
Schroeder on the sheer confusion her role as congresswoman ignited in Washington and how her husband received a surprising amount of attention for his role.

The Dean Didn't Want Women
Schroeder talks about how the dean at Harvard Law School was openly unwelcome to women and the uncomfortable dinner party he arranged.

Half the Population, Half the Legislature
Schroeder on how women should consist of 50% of the legislature and yet progress has been remarkably slow.

First Woman in the Armed Services Committee
Schroeder talks about serving on the House Armed Services Committee despite Chairmen Wilbur Mill's seething disapproval. 

An Imaginary Standard for Women
Schroeder talks about how Americans have largely accepted the 50s as the model for the family when history tells a much a different story. 

Shock at ERA's Defeat
Schroeder on her disbelief when the ERA wasn't passed.

Women in the Military
Schroeder talks about the time she spoke on women in the military and the uproarious response she received from the cameraman.

Today's Women
Schroeder on how young women no longer hear "no" in regards to their education, but how they still need to continue fighting for their place in the workforce.