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.