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Rep. Patricia Schroeder's Career Shows Real Effects of Electing More Women

Former Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), who represented Denver in Congress from 1973 to 1997, died March 13 from a stroke at the age of 82. Her congressional career was defined by efforts to advance peace, gender equality and economic justice. Many obituaries have lauded her as a “feminist pioneer” and highlighted aspects of her legacy, including her historic presidential run during the 1988 election and iconoclastic wit.

Examining Schroeder’s experiences and record illuminates how much has changed for American women in the past half century — as well as how much work remains to be done. In particular, her career drives home the importance of electing women who bring their lived experiences to public office to inform policymaking. As we commemorate Women’s History Month and Schroeder’s life, her career teaches us that the fight for legislation that helps working families and mothers of young children goes on.

Schroeder came to Congress in 1973 as a 32-year-old mother of two young children whose entire career had been shaped up until that point by motherhood — first by being barred from career advancement because she might one day become a mother, followed by the reality of trying to work with young children. The discrimination began as one of only 19 women in her first-year law class at Harvard in 1961. She recalled that the dean of the law school summoned all the first-year women to his house for a gathering. He demanded that, one-by-one, they sufficiently justify why they — as presumed future wives and mothers — deserved to be there. It is no wonder that only three-quarters of the women in her class graduated.

After earning her law degree, Schroeder moved with her husband and Harvard classmate, Jim, to Denver. While he quickly found work as an attorney in private practice, she, like many other women and people of color, found that the federal government’s hiring policies provided opportunities not available in the private sector. As a young lawyer, she worked for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

However, when Schroeder gave birth to her son Scott, and a few years later to her daughter Jamie, the NLRB would not allow her to transition to part-time work, so she pursued teaching as a more flexible option to accommodate her role as primary caregiver. Teaching at Regis College and the University of Colorado Denver also enabled her to carry out legal work for organizations such as Planned Parenthood of Colorado. These experiences shaped her future political career.

In 1972, Schroeder ran a grass-roots campaign for Congress, first in a primary against a centrist Democrat who had the backing of the party establishment. When she won the primary in a surprising upset, one Rocky Mountain News journalist marveled, “she’s the kind of blithe spirit that proves a woman can have her marriage and career, too, and not come on like a Lib while doing it.”

Read entire article at Made By History at the Washington Post