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Thank you, Congresswoman Pat Schroeder

Schroeder helped enact laws to support equality

Pat Schroeder sat in the small living room of a house in Denver, a meet-the-new-congresswoman event in 1973. She had just been elected to the House of Representatives at age 32, two years older than Senator-elect Joe Biden who also was elected in 1972.

Congresswoman Schroeder died on March 13.

I was new to Denver in 1973, a 19-year-old, and newly eligible to vote. Pat Schroeder made news because she was one of only 14 women in Congress, and she was a mother with young children when the debate about women working outside the home was very engaged. Schroeder famously said:

“I have a brain and a uterus and I use both.”

I have hazy memories of that meet-and-greet but do remember how impressed I was with our newly elected Representative. She was an airplane pilot, a graduate of the University of Minnesota and Harvard Law School, and had worked for the National Labor Relations Board in Denver.

She helped pass the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1973, which allowed for women to apply for a credit card without a man’s co-signature. She also sponsored the Pregnancy Anti-discrimination Act of 1978.

In 1978, I was working in New York City for the Human Rights Division, and we were working to eliminate a backlog of cases against AT&T. The company had a large female workforce and had not applied disability benefits to pregnancy — as no employer had.

The courts had recently decided that pregnancy was a disability and was eligible for employer insurance benefit payments, just like disability payments applied to a broken leg or surgery.

It’s easy to forget how recent all of those major changes are.

I liked Pat Schroeder because she was feisty, young, and had common sense.

The women in Congress made a big deal about how difficult it was to access bathrooms, as the House and Senate anterooms were not built to accommodate women. Many of our institutions were not built to accommodate women.

I recognize, even in writing this story, that many of these changes happened in time for me to be a beneficiary. I voted before I was 21. I got a cred card after I started my first job. I received disability payments and maternity leave a few years later.

Oh, I could tell stories, and you may, too, of job interviews that offered concern that a woman might have to leave work after dark when it was unsafe. I experienced what would be considered harassment with a laugh — because it was just considered normal behavior.

I remember an English teacher making fun of the title Ms., which he said stood for manuscript and would be confusing. Besides, if married, a woman was known as Mrs. John Doe, she even lost her first name, so what was the point?

Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, one of many pioneering women who made the path easier for those of us who followed, proved the point. Maybe we made it easier for those who followed us and were no longer the first woman to have a role, take that class, or expect equal benefits and salaries. We could leave work after dark.

It’s Women’s History Month, and women’s history, like Black History, or any sub-genre of history, is really just all history. Or herstory. I’ve been lucky to come of age at a time of change, and get to influence it, and be part of it, in small ways.

Of course, we are always part of history, but it is important to remember our leaders and fellow travelers.

And to offer the gratitude of Thanks, Pat Schroeder.

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  1. Kathryn Custer
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    I enjoyed your thoughtful piece about Pat Schroeder. Great to have that personal connection. I’m into lives of the saints. One of my books is Feminist Saints. Pat could be included.

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