Ms. Schroeder, who had a long career in the House, helped steer passage of legislation on family leave, pregnancy discrimination and other progressive causes.

Patricia Schroeder sitting outdoors, smiling for a portrait. A suburban street scene is in the background.
Colorado U.S. Representative Patricia Schroeder in Denver in 1994. She spent 24 years in the House.Credit…Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

By Katharine Q. Seelye

March 14, 2023Updated 11:17 a.m. ET

Patricia Schroeder, a former leading feminist legislator who helped redefine the role of women in American politics and used her wit to combat sexism in Congress, died on Monday in Celebration, Fla. She was 82.

Her death, in a hospital, was attributed to complications of a stroke, her daughter, Jamie Cornish, said.

Ms. Schroeder, who was a pilot and a Harvard-trained lawyer, 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 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which barred employers from dismissing women because they were pregnant and from denying them maternity benefits. And she championed laws that helped reform spousal pensions, opened military jobs to women and forced federally funded medical researchers to include women in their studies.

Elected in 1972 as an opponent of the Vietnam War, Ms. Schroeder served on the Armed Services Committee for all 24 years she was in Congress. From that perch, she called for arms control and reduced 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 it so in 1993, and by 1995 the first female fighter pilot was flying in combat. That only further outraged Ms. Schroeder’s critics on the right, like Lt. Col. Oliver North, who called her one of the nation’s 25 most dangerous politicians.

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. At an outdoor event in Denver, she choked up with emotion, pressed a tissue to her eyes and at one point leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder. The episode dismayed some feminists, who said her tears had reinforced stereotypes and set back the cause of women seeking office.

A close-up image of Ms. Schroeder holding a tissue to her eyes at a podium, apparently in tears.
Ms. Schroeder wrote that “it was my tears, not my words, that got the headlines” when she announced in 1987 that she would not run for president. Credit…Aron E. Tomlinson/Associated Press

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


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