Patricia Scott Schroeder

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Patricia Scott Schroeder

Patricia Scott Schroeder (born 1940) served as the first U.S. congresswoman from Colorado beginning in 1973. She was outspoken about what she considered wasteful spending by the Defense Department and championed women's and children's issues. When she retired from Congress in January 1997, she was the longest-serving woman in Congress.

Patricia Scott Schroeder, daughter of Lee and Bernice Scott, was born July 30, 1940, in Portland, Oregon. She received her Bachelor's degree in 1961 magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota where she was a member of Phi Betta Kappa. While studying law at Harvard she met James Schroeder, whom she married in 1962.

After receiving her law degree in 1964 the Schroeders moved to Denver, Colorado. Patricia worked as a field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board until 1966. In 1968, she became Democratic precinct committeewoman and in 1969 she worked as a lecturer and law instructor in Colorado. She served as a hearing officer for the Colorado Department of Personnel and as legal counsel to Planned Parenthood of Colorado from 1970-1972.

In 1972, Schroeder ran for Congress at the urging of her husband. Running on a liberal, anti-war platform, she was elected representative to the 1st District of Colorado. Schroeder had chosen not to assume a safe middle-of-the-road position. She was outspoken against the Vietnam War and asked for a reordering of national priorities with emphasis on health services, environmental protection, education, and health care. Although a virtually unknown candidate, she was able to capture the Democratic primary and upset the Republican incumbent with 51.6 percent of the vote. Schroeder would remain in office for 25 years.

As the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Colorado in its 79-year history, she quickly became aware of entrenched attitudes against females in Congress. When a colleague asked her how she, a mother of two small children, could be a legislator at the same time, she responded, "I have a brain and a uterus and I use them both."

Schroeder surprised those who thought she would prefer a House committee dealing with quality of life or women's issues by negotiating a seat on the powerful Arms Services Committee, headed by F. Edward Hébert. There she tried to expose what she viewed as the waste and folly of defense policies and to channel "saved" funds into social welfare programs.

Soon she appeared to threaten the long standing, good relationship between the committee and the Pentagon. She denounced their Military Procurement Authorization Bill as "frivolous," "a boon-doggle," and a "colossal waste of money." She chided those who thought that "killing an enemy fifteen times over makes us more secure than if we can kill him only five times over," and condemned her committee as "the Pentagon's lobby on the Hill." She accused the committee of being frightened of open debate on defense issues and challenged their logic in arguing either that "the Russians are doing it and therefore we must do it in order to avoid falling behind" or "the Russians are NOT doing it and therefore we must do it in order to stay ahead."

Her comments put her at odds with Hébert, who disliked having dissenting views aired in public, and he became openly critical of Schroeder. He once refused to approve her as a member of the U.S. delegation to a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) disarmament conference, telling her, "I wouldn't send you to represent this committee at a dog fight," but she went after the rule requiring the chairman's approval and the rule was later dropped. Eventually Hébert was deposed and Schroeder claimed it as her greatest victory.

Schroeder was also active in women's and children's issues, attempting to eliminate gender inequities, introducing legislation providing funds for child-abuse centers, cosponsoring legislation to expand Head Start programs, and supporting year-round use of recreational facilities for poor children. As chairman of the National Task Force on Equal Rights for Women she called for federal payments for abortions. In March, 1985, she was a regular on news programs denouncing the violent tactics of anti-abortionists.

Although Schroeder believed some improvement had been made in women-related legislation, such as gains in the military and certain areas of credit, she felt that one of the most important issues of the 1980s was to solve problems such as pension and job inequities, Social Security, and other inequalities based on sex. She also believed it urgent that women become more politically active, although she was not optimistic that they would become office-holders in large numbers. Other crucial issues of the 1980s, she believed, were the continuing problems of environment, military expenditures, and the need to convince other countries to share more of their defense costs. In 1988 Schroeder was appointed chair of the Defense Burden Sharing Panel, a component of the House Armed Services Committee. Schroeder enthusiastically undertook a challenging cause: that of women and their participation in the military. In 1989, following the U.S. invasion of Panama, she introduced legislation which would afford women a greater chance of participation in all areas of the military

Other legislation introduced by Schroeder would also have a profound effect on the lives of American women and children. In 1993, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act provided breast and cervical cancer screening to poor women and the National Child Protection Act provided for child care providers access to a national database of information on child abusers for the purpose of background checks. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was enacted to assist law enforcement professionals and victims rights organizations to fight rape and other forms of violent crime against women.

As a congresswoman Schroeder avoided the Washington social scene, preferring to be with her husband and children. She frequently returned to Colorado to report to her constituents. In 1987, however, she became more of a national figure as she travelled the country to see if she should become a candidate for president the following year. After five months of "testing" she decided not to enter the race.

The decision to retire from the House of Representatives came only after the 1994 Republican "House cleaning" that removed much of the power of the Democratic party within the House. She announced in 1995 that she would not seek another term, and she spent much of 1996 campaigning on behalf of President Bill Clinton and then turned to teaching and writing.

Further Reading

See Schroeder, Pat; Camp, Andrea; and Lipner, Robyn. Champion of the Great American Family (Random House, 1989).

Biographical data for Patricia Schroeder can be found in Esther Stineman's American Political Women. Additional materials concerning Schroeder's life and political activities are in Ilene Barth's "Congresswoman Pat Schroeder: She Calls Herself a Troublemaker," Ms. (June 1976); Norma L. Friedman's "Patricia Schroeder: Wife, Mother, Congresswoman—She Shows Us How," Vogue (November 1978); and Karen Elliott House's "That's No Pretty Young Thing … That's Congresswoman Pat Schroeder," Family Circle (July 1975). □

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