As a tribute to her passing, Ms. editors first asked Ellen Goodman, an awarding winning syndicated columnist and close friend of Pat’s, to write a tribute. Goodman responded by suggesting we ask not just her, but others, to share their favorite Pat Schroeder stories. Several of us in the feminist community were lucky enough to call Pat Schroeder our friend, and we are proud to share tributes that go beyond the existing obituaries.
On March 22, 2023, the House of Representatives will honor Schroeder with a moment of silence, which will occur during or immediately after first votes at approximately 6:30 p.m. EDT. On this same day in 1992, the Congress passed a final Equal Rights Amendment resolution for the states to bring the ratification process.
In honor of this one minute—60 seconds—of silence, below find 60 stories from people who knew and admired Pat Schroeder.
But first, here are a few more facts about Pat Schroeder the obits missed:
She came to Congress in 1973 when only 16 women (3.2 percent) were in the House of Representatives. Joining the ranks of a small band of strong feminists—including Bella Abzug, Cardiss Collins, Shirley Chisholm, Elizabeth Holtzman, Barbara Jordan and Patsy Mink—together they carried forth the work of retiring Martha Griffiths, who spearheaded Congress’ passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972. She stayed longer than all of these, except Patsy Mink, when Pat retired in 1996. Today there are 125 women in the House, or 28.7 percent.
Schroeder was an insider-outsider, a brilliant strategist who proudly supported NOW, Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Majority, AAUW, the League of Women Voters and others non-governmental groups who could rock the boat from the outside, so she and others could move dozens of new laws and policies to help women and families.
Pat led the march of women members of Congress to the Senate demanding that Anita Hill testify at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, sparking the 1992 Year of the Woman—so named since many new women were elected to Congress over their being disgusted at the misogynist treatment of Hill.
After a few years in Congress, she was a founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. Under her leadership, the caucus transformed the policy landscape for women and provided legislative leadership on critical issues impacting women’s lives, health and pocketbooks. She, along with her caucus members, eliminated gender discrepancies in health research and expanded breast and cervical cancer research at the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense—and those were only a few of the advances the congresswomen worked together to accomplish so that women’s lives would be healthier, safer and more economically secure.
Pat Schroeder was the author of the Violence Against Women Act, the Economic Equity Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, Child Abuse Prevention Action, and a dozen more ground-breaking laws to help women, children and families. She was also a strong, unwavering voice for abortion rights and women’s reproductive health, having almost died in childbirth. She was proud that one of her final bills as a member of Congress was the Safe Motherhood Act, the first call for a comprehensive plan to reduce maternal mortality in the U.S.
Without a doubt, her family—husband Jim, son Scott, daughter Jamie and four grandchildren Ellie, James, William and Beatrice—was always a top priority. And when people questioned her about her ability to be a mom and a member of Congress, she famously said, “I have a brain and uterus, and I use them both.”
Pat Schroeder has made the world and this country a better place.
It’s been almost 20 years since Pat and I first sat down to talk and think about our next steps. The first question our small group of women in their 60—soon to be deep friends—embraced was a simple one: “What should we do now that we already know the first line of our obituaries?”
Now I am reading that obit with a heavy heart full of loss for my friend,.
She was a quick wit. Check. She was a “pioneer.” Check. She stood up and up and up for women’s rights and families. Check.
Pat once described herself as being part of the “beach head generation,” the frontline of the second-wave feminists who landed in politics under supremely unfriendly fire. We took casualties and took new territory.
As the obit says, she was one of the firsts: Harvard law student, congresswoman, working mother. But the obit doesn’t mention her generous heart.
Pat truly got it: what it was like to juggle family and work, to be a woman in the Army, a pregnant woman in the workplace, a certified member of the sandwich generation, and a woman in politics when women weren’t expected to use—as she put it—both her brain and her uterus.
The New York Times, predictably, wrote (too much) about the moment she decided not to run for president. They wrote about the tears she shed—heaven forfend—but not her own retort that Kleenex would ask her to be their spokeswoman.
But in the end, I suppose no obit can tell you about the woman who had more Christmas decorations than Macy’s. Who was as passionate about her four grandchildren as about the Democratic Party. Who didn’t cook but did take her entire extended family on cruises where others did the cooking. Who put smiley faces on her letters. Who took our little group of elders to Disney World for a space slide. Who had a sense of fun that extended to a dance-a-thon in Havana. And who was utterly determined to live life to the fullest until the very last.
She cared about so much. And so many.
Earlier this month, I got my weekly copy of her collated “Friday Funnies,” a bunch of comics and cartoons. I didn’t know it would be the last one.
Pat closed the email as she always did, sending “Hugs.”
—Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist
2. Pat Schroeder was a fierce force for good, using her 24 years in public service to advocate for women and families. “You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time,” she’d say.
—Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and the first woman to win a presidential nomination by a major U.S. political party
3. The 1988 Democratic presidential race was turned upside down on May 8, 1987, when frontrunner Colorado Sen. Gary Hart withdrew in the wake of allegations of extra marital affairs.
Among Democratic women who had been energized by the 1984 vice presidential nomination of Geraldine Ferraro, the buzz began: Was there an opening for a woman to join the race?
I began to hear rumblings from sources I had as The Associated Press reporter who covered the Ferraro effort from Day One. Over time, one name came up as the likeliest candidate: Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder. I had covered Schroeder many times over the years as I specialized in stories about women in politics. She was remarkably engaging so it was natural to check in regularly with her, with her office and her friends.
On June 5, as I was making the usual rounds of calls to sources, the buzz took a sharp turn: Several were sure Schroeder was going to run. There was a meeting, maybe at her office. I couldn’t get confirmation. So I called her office and left a message that I had a question for the congresswoman.
A couple of minutes later, the phone rings. “Hi, it’s Pat Schroeder. I hear you wanted to ask me a question. I only have a minute: I’m running to the airport,” she said, a little out of breath.
Yes, I said. I hear you are thinking about running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“How the…did you…?” she said. A pause. “Yes, I am thinking about it. No decisions yet.”
And that was the story of the day, rushed out on the AP wire.
—Evans Witt, retired AP political correspondent
4. Pat Schroeder broke barriers for women in Congress and for women everywhere. She fought for women’s social security rights, family medical leave, women in the military—the list goes on. Especially quick-witted, always seeing the irony and ridiculousness of those who opposed women’s rights, she would laugh and kept moving forward. Her campaign slogan, “She wins, we win,” was true for millions of women and families. Pat Schroeder and I shared birthdays on the same day in July with phone calls and lunches. I will miss her.
—Eleanor Smeal, publisher of Ms. and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation
5. The passing of former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder is a profound loss for our nation. Throughout her more than two decades in the House, Congresswoman Schroeder proved to be an effective legislative force, whose bold vision and firm values helped deliver progress for America’s women, service members and working families.
On Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Schroeder was a trailblazer: the first woman to represent Colorado in Congress and the first women to serve on the House Armed Services Committee. A co-founder of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, Congresswoman Schroeder relentlessly fought against sexism—not only across the country but in the Capitol. She wrote the original legislation to guarantee paid leave, which she championed year after year until President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993. Her Military Family Act of 1985 continues to care for the loved ones of our heroes in uniform. These are just two examples of her remarkable legislative legacy.
It was my great personal privilege to serve with Congresswoman Schroeder, whom many of us consider one of the bravest women to ever serve in the halls of Congress. It was a special triumph when her years-long advocacy
finally brought the statue of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott into the Rotunda to honor generations of women who fought for gender justice. Her courage and persistence leave behind an indelible legacy of progress and have inspired countless women in public service to follow in her footsteps.
May it be a comfort to her husband James, their children Scott and Jamie, their grandchildren and the entire Schroeder family that so many mourn with and pray for them at this sad time.
—House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the first woman to hold the office
6. Pat Schroeder was a pioneer. In her 24 years in Congress, she seized every opportunity to advance equality for women, and the laws she helped pass fundamentally reshaped our country for the better.
On issue after issue, Pat stood up for basic fairness, sensible policy, and women’s equal humanity. The result was a legislative record that changed millions of women’s lives—and men’s lives—for the better.
I saw firsthand Pat’s moral compass, legal mind and political savvy when we worked together on the Violence Against Women Act. She was the primary sponsor in the House; I led the charge in the Senate. Together, we got it done. With Pat as my partner, I never doubted that we would.
She inspired a generation of public servants, proved that a young mom could be a formidable Congresswoman, and did it all with legendary wit.
—President Joe Biden
7. Pat Schroeder broke barriers as the first woman to serve on the House Armed Services Committee. Over her 24 years in Congress, she championed women’s rights and helped secure passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Her legacy will inspire generations of leaders to come.
—Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman and person of color to serve in the role
8. Thank you, former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, for fighting for equal rights and family leave, and for standing up to the “good ole boy” network in Congress.
—Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.)
9. Patricia Schroeder was the coach, the leader, the strategist. She was, by far, the greatest feminist of my time in Congress.
I learned of her passing on #EqualPayDay. No one was a greater advocate for women’s equality, and she was right out front on equal pay and other issues. She was priceless.
I remember, late one night, I was sitting on the House floor and she came and sat next to me. She asked, “What makes us different?” What propelled us to run for office and serve in such male-dominated institution? We reached the conclusion that it was in large part because our fathers had faith in us. They supported everything we did. Never think that fathers aren’t just as important as mothers in helping girls and young women reach their fullest potential.
It was great fun to serve with Schroeder. She was so quick-witted. When we tried to get a suffragist statue out of the Capitol basement and to the rotunda on display, a Republican said, “They’re too ugly.” Schroeder responded: “Have you looked at Lincoln lately?”
I had the privilege of following in her footsteps and carry forward new laws to help women and families. Onward to ratifying ERA, expanding paid family leave, restoring abortion rights and moving forward the fights together we and others began and will someday happen.
—Carolyn Maloney, former member of U.S. House of Representatives, 1993–2022
10. Great activist supporting women’s causes and known for shutting down right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. Legislator extraordinaire, her contributions are well documented in history!
—Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)
11. Pat was a good friend to Ms. from its first publication until her death. Over the years, Ms. covered her many break-through accomplishments for women and girls, her wit and wisdom … and of course, that iconic photo of the moment she led the group of congresswomen in a march from the House to the Senate to demand that hearings be held on Anita Hill’s allegations against then-nominee for the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas. I was at the NOW conference when she appeared, having just announced her intention to explore a presidential run—the energy and sheer joy of the conference delegates who hailed from every state in the country, cannot be described. She was generous in spirit, passing the torch to others in Congress as she retired, and more importantly lighting new torches especially for young women who were interns, staff, colleagues and friends.
—Kathy Spillar, executive editor of Ms.
12. Every woman currently serving in Congress owes a tremendous debt to Pat Schroeder. With her steadfast commitment and sharp wit, she proved women could be mothers, wives and congresswomen, and that they could lead on everything from family issues to national security.
—Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
13. When I think of Pat Schroeder, I think of her leading a delegation of women House Reps to the Senate to demand that the Senate Judiciary Committee address the allegation of sexual harassment made by Anita Hill regarding the nomination of Clarence Thomas. That image was powerful.
—Sherrilyn Ifill, former president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
14. RIP Pat Schroeder. You were a pioneer for women in Congress and I will never forget our march over to the Senate to protest the treatment of Anita Hill. You put down the prejudice you faced as a woman with humor and grit, and paved the way for so many. Your memory is a blessing.
—Barbara Boxer, former senator from California
15. It was said that when Pat Schroeder kissed a baby on the trail, she *really* kissed *that* baby. It was deeply important to her that when she campaigned, she was vulnerable and made genuine connections with people. This was her superpower and Achilles heel.
—Kevin Eggleston, writer and actor
16. I’ve been thinking about Pat Schroeder like so many of us. In 1988, shortly after my son Jonathan was born, Cathy Saypol and I were doing the publicity for a childcare conference at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. I was bringing Jonathan along to meetings and brought him to the conference. Before going to speak, Pat Schroeder saw him and within moments he was in her arms when she brought him to meet the press—because, as she said, “This is why we are here today.” Pat was a feminist pioneer with a huge heart and a determination that inspired all of us. I will never forget her smile and warmth as she held Jonathan.
—Karin Lippert, publicist at KLPR Media and former Ms. magazine publicist
17. In 1992 I saw Pat Schroeder speak in Portland, Maine, with my daughter. Pat was discouraged folks didn’t want to run for office anymore. Pat asked me about running for Maine Senate—seemed like a crazy idea. I’d been a mom/farmer who’d never thought of running. Hannah said, “Go for it!”
I’m not the only one Pat Schroeder encouraged to get active in public life. She made a major impact and will be forever missed.
—Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine)
18. Pat Schroeder was an incredibly effective lawmaker whose decades of service made America better, fairer and stronger. I’ll always be grateful for her essential support in passing the Family and Medical Leave Act.—Bill Clinton, former U.S. president
—Lara Hood Balazs, CMO at Intuit
—Melinda French Gates, philanthropist
—Tom Lyden, investigative reporter for FOX 9, KMSP-TV, Minneapolis/St. Paul
—Lauren VanDenBerg, archivist at the Central Archives Project of the American Museum of Natural History
One that read: “Congratulations for being the first male Member to join the Congresswomen’s Caucus. Welcome! I look forward to working with you.”—with the smiley face “P” and signed YEA!
All of this is vintage Pat and as someone who knew her from our days on The Great American Family Tour—an effort to build grassroots support for the Family Medical Leave Act by doing events in the presidential primary states after she decided not to run—in 1986, to earlier this month when we shared emails about our kids, I appreciate all of it. But what I will most remember about Pat Schroeder is something simple:
She was fun. She shared jokes, funny saying and stories. She was good-natured and energetic. She was optimistic even against long odds. I was so lucky to have known her as a close friend.—Diana Meehan, founder of the Archer School for Girls
—Jeanne Clark, director of governmental affairs at Allegheny County Sanitary Authority
—Shana Goldberg-Meehan, TV producer and writer, and executive producer of Friends
—Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.)
—Deborah Roberts, journalist
—Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)
—Donna F. Edwards, former House member, 2008–2017
F. Edward Hebert of Louisiana, the committee hard-line conservative Democratic chairman, allowed just one seat in the hearing room from to be shared by Schroeder and Ron Dellums, a newly elected African American congressman from California. She recalled Herbert saying, “The two of you are only worth half the normal member.” Schroeder said she and Dellums “sat cheek to cheek on one chair, bring to retain some dignity.”—Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center
—Connie Schultz, columnist
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)
—Walter Shapiro, award-winning political journalist
I was excited to help host a Minnesota event in July 1987 when I was lieutenant governor and as she considered a run for president. Her leadership on FMLA and childcare legislation strengthened our own Children’s Agenda in the 80’s.
As president of the American Association of Publishers, she delivered a fabulous plenary speech at the annual conference of NAFSA: Association of International Educator in my first year as CEO in 1998. And later, we served together on the board of the Communications Consortium Media Center strengthening messages and communications for policy change on the many aspects of the women’s rights and children’s agenda, in the US and globally. She was a star in so many ways. Thank you Pat.—Marlene Johnson
She was my go-to woman for witty insights into the workings of Capitol Hill. Once at a fundraiser, she told the crowd, “Nobody ever says to men, how can you be a Congressman and a father! Women have more power than they recognize, and they’re very hesitant to use it for they fear they won’t be loved.’ ‘Right on,’ someone shouted.
Almost 12 years later, she came to Maine to be the guest speaker at a Maine Women’s Fund event. She spent the night at my home, and we did the obligatory trip to L.L. Bean, where she fell on an ice patch before I could catch her. No lasting damage fortunately.
Her ill-fated run for the presidency had already occurred, but her contributions to the world and women would remain stellar her whole life. Her spirit, vision and wit was mighty and will be sorely missed.—Anne B. Zill, author of the forthcoming book, Out of the Main(e) Stream, from which this remembrance is excerpted
1. Keep a sense of humor. Critical and disarming.
2. Keep your sights high. Pat was a private pilot and kept eyes above the horizon. Taking that
focus to Washington she was always ahead of the curve on ideas.
3. Speak publicly with passion. A written speech works but speak from the heart. It communicates
more. She would often get on stage with two words written on her hand and off she went.
4. Soak up the (real) news and information. Knowledge is power.
5. Remember not to take yourself too seriously. See #1.
6. Stand your ground. Don’t be intimidated by anything or anyone.
7. Go for it. She neither sought permission nor forgiveness.
8. Cole slaw on BBQ is pretty tasty.—Louis X. “Kip” Cheroutes, government consultant
Sometime in the 1980s they brought Rob Reiner, who was just starting to explore what would become his long-haul effort on behalf of children, to meet with me and my husband Jerry Dunfey. Huddled in a booth at the Last Hurrah Bar in the Parker House Hotel until the wee hours of the night, Pat’s brilliant strategy in full horsepower. She discerned how to dissect every dimension of turning progressive ideas into concrete actions with tangible positive effects. It was like learning from a Ninja master!
Kathy and I with Donna Brazile organized the closing unity celebration at the 1985 Nairobi Conference on Women with Pat cheering us on.
My last interaction with Pat was in December 2022 and her words “May you never tire!” will inspire me to keep advancing her legacy, a lifelong dedication to make the U.S. and the world more just for women, children, families and everyone. Viva Pat!—Nadine Hack, CEO of beCause Global Consulting
—Joe Cirincione, national security analyst
—Stephanie Schriock, political strategist and former president of EMILY’s List
—Joanie Schirm, retired CEO and author
—Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), whip of the U.S. House of Representatives
And I am eternally thankful, not only for all of the incredible work she did for our state, but for the guidance and friendship she provided along the way. Pat was elected to Congress when I was in high school and she inspired a generation of young women, like me, to dream high. She became a mentor and dear friend after I succeeded her.—Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)
Pat’s famous campaign slogan was, “She wins, we win.” I now understand a bit more what she meant. Thanks, Pat.—Wendy Wasserman, former staff assistant to Pat Schroeder
Pat used humor to bring complex problems down to human scale—to define problems and point to solutions. Her humor helped give people the sense that they could be problem solvers.
Pat was driven by hope not hate. She knew that hope is an essential political, psychological and spiritual necessity. She also knew that hope needs a strategy. Hate needs only itself to spread and corrode.
Pat announced her potential candidacy for president from this same impulse to get things done. In the end, Pat realized time and fundraising to build a national campaign were against her. Much has been written about these seconds of tears, as though this was a weakness.
But those tears were because she knew she would be disappointing so many who saw in her a new politics—politics of hope, not hate, where everyone matters and we could get things done. She never gave up on hope. We won’t either.—Pam Solo, former campaign director for Pat Schroeder
—Vince Bzdek, editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, from his column, “The passing of Pat Schroeder reminds us how far we’ve come”
—Regina Cowles, political organizer
—Amy Diehl, author and information technology leader
Her signature accomplishment, the 1990 Family and Medical Leave Act, passed with the help of co-sponsor Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) and several dozen Republican votes. Schroeder understood that successful politics was a game of addition, built on alliances and coalitions.—Daniel Buck, staffer of Pat Schroeder during 1970s–1990s
—Linda Deutsch, retired AP journalist
—Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.)
—Robyn Lipner, founder and owner of Chevy Chase Confections
—Susan Liehe, communications and marketing at Denver Economic Development and Opportunity
—Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Elections Commission
While her legislative achievements spanned diverse issues, Pat was best known for being a fierce advocate for women. And many young women asked her for advice. She told them to make sure women were in rooms where decisions were being made. And if they were not, to kick the door down and hold the door open for those behind them. Politics she reminded us is not a spectator sport –you have to be ready to roll up your shirtsleeves and get in the fight.
So maybe the best way to remember Pat is to keep kicking down doors for one another and for those without power. Get out there. Make change happen. As Pat would say, Onward!—Andrea Camp, legislative director and press secretary for Pat Schroeder
A few days ago, a friend sent me the Edna St. Vincent Millay poem Dirge Without Music. The last lines are ever so appropriate:
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Pat’s spirit will live on, along with the positive impact of her many, many accomplishments.—Kathy Bonk, feminist activist and longtime friend of Pat Schroeder