By Lindsey Toomer
Coloradans are mourning the loss of former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, a Democrat who was a trailblazer for women’s rights throughout her life and career.
Schroeder, who represented Denver in Congress for 24 years beginning in 1972, died Monday at 82 in Celebration, Florida. She is recognized for redefining women’s role in politics, regularly using her wit to stand up to those who questioned her place in Congress.
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, also a Democrat, succeeded Schroeder in Colorado’s 1st Congressional District seat.
“Women have voices on every major piece of legislation — not just so-called women’s issues, but everything from defense issues, to financial services issues, to energy,” DeGette said at a press conference Tuesday. “And that’s the legacy that Pat and her generation gave to this whole next generation.”
Schroeder became the first mother of young children to serve in Congress when her kids were ages 2 and 6. DeGette said Tuesday that her children were also ages 2 and 6 when she began serving in Congress, and credited Schroeder with teaching her that she can defuse almost any situation with dignity and wit.
“When Pat started her time in Congress, she had nobody to help her figure out what to do,” DeGette said. “And so when I came to Congress 24 years later, she was there for minute things, like how do you balance the after-school schedule and the congressional schedule, but she was also there for things like how do you get a good committee assignment?”
DeGette shared a Valentine’s Day card Schroeder sent her just last month congratulating her on becoming a grandmother. The congresswoman said she has only ever voted for two people in Congress: Schroeder and herself.
When asked toward the start of her career by a congressman how she could be a mother and a congresswoman, Schroeder replied, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both” — a maxim DeGette said she repeated frequently. Schroeder is also credited with giving President Ronald Reagan the nickname “Teflon president,” because of his ability to escape scrutiny for his administration’s political scandals.
DeGette noted that when Schroeder became the first woman appointed to the Armed Services Committee, she was there alongside Rep. Ron Dellums, the first African American to serve on the committee. The chair of the committee made the two of them share one chair because he said women and Black members were only worth half of any other member. Through her role on this committee, Schroeder became one of the first voices advocating for women’s rights in the military.
“Rep. Schroeder was a one-of-a-kind leader and barrier breaker. Marlon and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Pat, a friend, a leader, and a champion for Colorado and our nation,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement, referring to his husband. “We send our deepest condolences to Pat’s family and all of the lives she touched and dreams she inspired across our state and country. Our daughter’s future and women across our country’s future are better thanks to her service.”
U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado said in a tweet that he’s grateful for everything Schroeder did for Colorado. He also praised her role in passing the Family and Medical Leave Act as well as prohibiting employers from firing women who are pregnant.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser called Schroeder “one of the all time greats.”
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