Patricia Schroeder, Feminist Trailblazer in Congress, Dies at 82

Patricia Schroeder, Feminist Trailblazer in Congress, Dies at 82

Patricia Schroeder, a pioneering feminist lawmaker who helped redefine the role of women in American politics and used her wit to combat outrageous sexism in Congress, died Monday in Celebration, Florida. She was 82 years old.

She died in hospital from complications from a stroke, her daughter Jamie Cornish said in an email.

Ms. Schroeder, who was a pilot and a Harvard-trained attorney, had a long and distinguished career in the House of Representatives. She was a driving force behind the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which guaranteed women and men up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member.

She helped pass the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which prohibited employers from firing women because of pregnancy and denying them maternity pay. And she lobbied for legislation that helped reform spousal benefits, opened up military jobs to women, and forced federally funded medical researchers to include women in their studies.

Elected to oppose the Vietnam War in 1972, Ms. Schroeder served on the Armed Services Committee for all 24 years that she was in Congress. From this seat she called for arms control and a reduction in military spending.

She worked to improve benefits for military personnel and persuaded the committee to recommend that women be allowed to fly combat missions. Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered this in 1993, and in 1995 the first female fighter pilot flew in combat. This only further outraged Ms. Schroeder’s critics on the right, as Lt. Col. Oliver North, who called her one of the 25 Most Dangerous Politicians in the Nation.

One of Ms. Schroeder’s most enduring public images is her crying when she announced in 1987 that she would not run for president. At an outdoor event in Denver, she choked on emotion, pressed a handkerchief to her eyes, and at one point rested her head on her husband’s shoulder. That outraged some feminists, who said their tears had reinforced stereotypes and set back the cause of women running for office.

It was an ironic indictment of a woman who had done so much to promote this cause. Ms. Schroeder was the first Colorado woman elected to Congress and the first to serve on the Armed Services Committee. From the start, she had to fight against blatant discrimination and questions about how, as a mother of two young children, she could function as both a mother and a legislator.

“I have a brain and a womb and I use both,” she replied.

A longer version of this obituary will be published later.

Vivek Shankar contributed to the coverage.

Katharine Q. Seelye