Schroeder, Patricia (1940—)

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Schroeder, Patricia (1940—)

U.S. representative, advocate for families and women, who used her position on the House National Security Committee to challenge assumptions about spending priorities. Name variations: Pat Schroeder. Pronunciation: SHROW-der. Born Patricia Scott on July 30, 1940, in Portland, Oregon; daughter of Bernice Lemoin Scott (an elementary schoolteacher) and Lee Combs Scott (a pilot and aviation insurance adjuster); University of Minnesota, B.A. (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa), 1961; Harvard Law School, J.D., 1964; certification from Colorado Bar, 1964; married James W. Schroeder, on August 18, 1962; children: Scott William Schroeder (b. 1966); Jamie Christine Schroeder (b. 1970).

Numerous honorary degrees and awards, including Child Advocacy Award, National Parent-Teacher Association (1990); Distinguished Service to Families Award (1991); Leadership Award, Center for Policy Alternatives (1994); National Women's Hall of Fame (1995).

Family moved from Oregon to Texas, Ohio, and Iowa (1940–58); practiced law and taught law at Denver area schools (1964–72); won 2 primary and 12 general elections (1972–96); served on House National Security Committee (formerly House Armed Services Committee, 1973–96), House Judiciary Committee (1980–96), and House Post Office and Civil Service Committee (1973–94); served as co-chair, Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues (1979–95), deputy whip, Democratic Caucus (1987–96), and chair, House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families (1991–93); formed exploratory presidential campaign committee, raised $1 million in three months (1987); retired undefeated from Congress (1996); became president and chief executive of the Association of American Publishers (1997).

Selected publications:

Champion of the Great American Family (Random House, 1989); 24 Years of House Work … and the Place is Still a Mess (Andrews McMeel, 1998).

The young mother who wore her long hair tied back with a velvet ribbon and carried a bag of disposable diapers to her swearing-in as a member of Congress in 1973 was an unlikely candidate for membership on the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee. Or so thought Congressman Edward Hébert, the elderly and irascible chair who tried to keep her off his committee, and then, when she had doggedly lobbied her way in, tried to keep her in what he imagined was her place. "I hope you're not going to be a skinny Bella Abzug ," was his less-than-cordial greeting. "No," she assured him, "I'm going to be me. I'm going to be Pat Schroeder." The chair and his colleagues soon learned who Pat Schroeder was: a woman who wanted a seat on the committee that controlled nearly 40% of the national budget, to see if money could be saved from military spending and used for other purposes. "When men talk about defense, they always claim to be protecting women and children," she said at the time, "but they never ask the women and children what they think." Unasked, she was about to tell them.

Patricia Scott's parents were strong role models. Her father Lee Scott was a pilot who had been drafted to teach aviation during World War II. After the war, he became an aviation insurance adjuster, and taught Schroeder to fly before she was 16, thus encouraging her to be unconventional. He prized efficient use of time, mowing the grass in his suit because he didn't want to waste time changing clothes. He expected Pat and her older brother Mike to help on projects like rebuilding an airplane or remodeling a house. Schroeder's mother Bernice Scott returned to work as an elementary schoolteacher the year Pat entered kindergarten. She never insisted that Pat help in the kitchen but allowed her to choose other chores. As a child, Schroeder suffered from amblyopia or "lazy eye," and for a time had to wear an eye patch. Her father helped her cope with other children's teasing by advising her, "Never frown at your enemies. Smile—it scares the hell out of them." It was a lesson she learned well.

The Scott family moved frequently while Schroeder was growing up: from Portland, Oregon, where she was born in 1940, to Kansas City, Missouri, to North Platte, Nebraska, to Sioux City, Iowa, to Dallas, Texas, to Hamilton, Ohio, and finally to Des Moines, Iowa, where she graduated from high school. The experience helped her learn to make friends. "Starting at three," she remembered, "whenever we moved I had to find kids to play with in the new neighborhood … as soon as the moving truck pulled away, I would line up my toys on the sidewalk and sit down next to them…. The toys were like flypaper. I made friends almost at once."

Her family believed everyone had a right to a college education but also the responsibility to work for it. Schroeder paid her way by flying out to assess damage at airplane crash sites. She graduated in three years, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. For awhile, Schroeder had studied Chinese and longed to go to China, but her biggest desire, inspired by her father, had always been to attend law school. His law school dream had been thwarted by the Depression. The Scotts were dubious about her choice of Harvard, where Schroeder was one of only 15 women in a class of 550. On her first day, the man who had been assigned the seat next to hers refused to take his place, remarking that he had never gone to school with a girl and did not plan to start now. He also sneered that she should be ashamed of herself for taking a spot in the class that should have gone to a man. Although Pat found Harvard stuffy and "not very challenging," she did meet one "affable" young man, Jim Schroeder. The two married in 1962. After graduation in 1964, they moved to Denver, where Jim joined a law firm. Pat went into private practice and worked as the field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board until the birth of their son Scott in 1966. Thereafter, she worked part time, teaching law at three local colleges, serving as a hearing officer in the Colorado Department of Personnel, and doing pro-bono work for Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood. The Schroeders' daughter Jamie was born four years after Scott.

In 1970, Jim ran for the state legislature and Pat worked on his campaign; he was defeated by only 42 votes. Two years later, he joined other Democrats to pick a candidate for Colorado's 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Republican incumbent, James "Mike" McKevitt, had been a popular district attorney. McKevitt had won in 1970 after a Democratic split following a bitter primary battle, when an anti-Vietnam war challenger had beaten the ten-term Democratic congressman. Worse, redistricting had moved some Democratic neighborhoods into an adjoining suburban district. Most prospective candidates were reluctant to run against such odds. When someone asked Jim, "What about your wife?," he laughingly dismissed the idea. But at home, the Schroeders realized Pat had good credentials: with labor groups through her work at the NLRB, with education groups through her teaching, and from the growing anti-war movement. Jim urged her to run: "You say you're concerned … here's your chance to do something."

Because she was considered a long shot, the Democratic National Committee gave Pat Schroeder no money, and women's groups were also reluctant to support her. She kept her part-time jobs. But her overconfident opponent stayed in Washington until the last month of the campaign, and Schroeder's message on the war, the environment, and child care garnered her 52% of the vote, despite a nationwide landslide for Richard Nixon. Schroeder was one of five women elected to Congress for the first time that year; nine of the eleven female incumbents were reelected. There were no women senators in the 93rd Congress. Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D-NY) called to congratulate Schroeder, but when she learned that the new congresswoman had two children, ages two and six, Abzug flatly stated, "I don't think you can do the job." Schroeder pared down her domestic responsibilities to a minimum, ordering carpeting for their Washington home and even a new car over the phone. Jim gave up his partnership in a Denver law firm and found work with a Washington, D.C., law firm, for awhile as a lobbyist, then at the Department of Agriculture. He began to see more of the children than he had before, a benefit to them all. The children chose to attend public rather than private schools and to use the money saved to accompany their mother on trips. The Schroeders made more time for their family by avoiding the Washington social scene.

Schroeder had been elected on a platform to improve education and clean up the environment, and she believed that money from those programs could be found by cutting the defense budget that stood at nearly $80 billion, 40% of the entire national budget. She managed to win a place on the House Armed Services Committee, over the protests of Hébert, an admitted "male chauvinist" whose reaction to Schroeder, she later recalled, made her first day at Harvard seem like a welcoming party in comparison. He did not consider her worthy to join the committee because she had never been in combat. Schroeder pointed out that neither had most of the male members of his committee. Later described by conservative columnist George Will as a "rhetorical roughneck," Schroeder earned good press coverage for remarks like her complaint that the vision of the committee was "obscured by the shine of military brass." Although the 1974 Military Procurement Authorization bill came out of committee with none of Schroeder's suggestions for change, she filed seven pages of "additional views," criticizing the committee's procedures. She was encouraged when a member who had always previously voted with the chair told her privately that he had come to agree that the committee was little more than a lobby for the Pentagon. "Courage is contagious," said Schroeder. "Maybe next year he'll be willing to [say] it publicly."

Interviewer: "How can you be the mother of two small children and a member of Congress at the same time?"

Schroeder: "Because I have a uterus and a brain and they both work."

Pat Schroeder's first bill, introduced with Senator Walter Mondale, was the Child Abuse and Protection Act to fund local demonstration and counseling programs on child abuse. It tied funds to a state's ability to meet reporting and treatment requirements. As it was her first bill, she learned everything she could about the subject, even attending Mondale's Senate hearings as well as the House Education and Labor Sub-committee hearings. The bill passed overwhelmingly and was signed into law.

Schroeder had begun a career of advocacy for children, women and families. She and other women in Congress began meeting informally soon after her arrival to discuss issues affecting women. In 1977, they formed the Congress-women's Caucus (later the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues) to identify the problems women faced and decide what needed to be done. Starting in 1979, Schroeder served as the Democratic co-chair. After 1981, the Caucus introduced into each session of Congress an Economic Equity Act, made up of various bills to help women financially.

Often when Pat Schroeder was interviewed during her first term, she was asked her greatest fear as a freshman in the House. "Losing my housekeeper," she always replied. During her first press conference after the 1972 election, she joined other members of Congress in calling for a bill to remedy the lack of affordable child care. On the House Armed Services Committee, generals told her privately that inadequate child care for the families of service members was their main personnel problem. Schroeder believed that it was a national responsibility to ensure good care for children, the most valuable national resource. In 1974, she became a member of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee, and conducted hearings on ways to increase the productivity of the federal work force. She found that parents wanted more control over their schedules, and she introduced a pilot "flextime" program, later made permanent, to allow government workers to choose their own hours. In 1978, she pushed through a Federal Employees Part-Time Career Employment Act which created 10,000 new part-time jobs with pro-rated benefits in the federal government, a boon to working parents. She was an active supporter of Head Start, and enrolled her daughter Jamie in the program.

Soon women from Colorado who were not constituents from Schroeder's district began showing up in her office. "First they see their own Representative, their Congressman," she explained to a Ms. Magazine reporter in 1976, "then they come to see me, their Congresswoman." Such visibility was not without its drawbacks. Schroeder admitted that it was sometimes exhausting: "Strangers, men and women, feel free to stop me … and tell me everything in their lives that ever went wrong."

In 1977, Schroeder joined 81 colleagues to introduce the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prompted by a Supreme Court decision which had found General Electric not guilty of discrimination for excluding pregnancy under its disability plan because the condition was "voluntary." Schroeder was indignant to learn that the plan paid for sports injuries, attempted suicides, disabilities incurred during a fight or in the commission of a crime, and vasectomies. The Act became law in 1978. However, a provision to direct employers to reinstate women in their old jobs after childbirth was not included in the final bill. In 1985, Schroeder authored the Family and Medical Leave Act, which required employers with 50 or more employees to provide at least 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave for birth, adoption, or family illness. Unsuccessful during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, it was one of the first pieces of legislation signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Often traveling to military bases in the U.S. and overseas, Schroeder became aware of another inequity: women who had foregone careers of their own to accompany their foreign service or

military husbands on frequent moves were left without pensions if the marriage ended in divorce. Wives of foreign service officers were particularly shortchanged, as they were expected to contribute to the success of their husbands' careers by entertaining foreign diplomats, as well as by making a family life overseas where problems of health, housing, and education were often overwhelming. In 1977, Schroeder introduced several former spouse bills, for the foreign service, the military, the civil service, and the CIA, each of which had its own retirement program. These bills were enacted into law between 1980 and 1984.

When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, his budget called for reductions in education, training, social services, health, income security, and justice programs which Schroeder saw as a direct attack on women. Congress established a Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families; Schroeder was a charter member and chair of its Economic Security Task Force. The group took credit for smaller decreases than the administration had requested in programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing. A self-styled fiscally conservative liberal, Schroeder voted against Reagan's 1981 tax cut, because she thought the country could not afford it, and against the 1986 tax-reform bill, because she favored more progressive rates.

Schroeder challenged the belief that most women on welfare had been born into welfare families, claiming that in most states, the majority of women on welfare first experienced poverty following a divorce. The Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues discovered that, even though Congress had enacted a Child Support Enforcement program in 1975, states varied widely in enforcing child-support payments by fathers. The Child Support Enforcement Amendment passed in 1984 and brought some regularity to the collection process, which enabled the federal government to cut expenditures. More important from Schroeder's point of view, the bill signaled that the federal government had a role to play when the economic security of children and families was at stake. She also was concerned with economic equity issues such as tax reform, occupational segregation and affirmative-action programs.

Pat Schroeder continued to work for her goals through the House Armed Services Committee. In 1987, she became deputy whip for arms-control legislation, and authored the nuclear test ban amendment to the 1988 Defense Authorization. When Reagan blamed the budget deficit on "welfare queens," she countered with an accusation that defense contractors who over-charged were the real "welfare queens" of the '80s. At the same time, she worked for other military issues such as improved training and increased pay. She became an early advocate for "burden sharing," calling on America's allies to assume a larger portion of the defense costs in Europe and the Pacific. At that time, the United States was spending $1,115 per citizen on defense, $669 of which went to support NATO, while France was spending $511 on defense, and Great Britain $488. These countries spent more per capita than the U.S. on health and education, and Schroeder did not think it was coincidental that they had lower rates of infant mortality, teen pregnancy, divorce, and alcohol and drug abuse.

After her first reelection in 1974, Schroeder never had to campaign hard to keep her seat in Congress. She became more partisan in the 1980s, however, campaigning in 1984 against Reagan, whom she characterized as the "Teflon president" because none of the failures of his administration stuck to him. She accused Reagan of investing American tax dollars in the biggest peacetime military budget in history while cutting programs which created better economic conditions for women. In June 1984, she led a march from Capitol Hill to the White House, claiming that "advancing women's rights and defeating Ronald Reagan are synonymous." She was chagrined by his reelection, complaining that the Democrats had "raised the art of losing the presidency to an art form."

In 1987, she was working for a second time as co-chair of fellow Coloradan Gary Hart's presidential campaign, but when Hart was caught in a sex scandal and left the race, Schroeder began to explore the possibility of becoming a candidate herself. She insisted that her candidacy was not merely symbolic: she had a platform and she had served in Congress 15 years, longer than any other candidate that year except Delaware Senator Joe Biden, who withdrew after admitting to plagiarism. But she continued to be seen not as Pat Schroeder but as Everywoman, advancing the struggle of women for a stronger voice in government. She was often asked, "Why are you running as a woman?," to which she would reply: "Do I have an option?" Within three months, she had raised $1 million, but it was only half of what she thought was needed to mount a professional campaign. At a rally of 2,000 supporters in Denver on September 28, she announced she would not be a candidate for president. The crowd, which had been chanting "Run, Pat, Run," groaned loudly, and Schroeder, unprepared for the crowd's powerful reaction, began to cry. Predictably, pundits used the occasion to speculate on women's suitability for high public office. The congresswoman began to keep a file of stories about male politicians and sports figures who cried, to document yet another double standard.

After the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, Schroeder introduced legislation to allow women in the army to take part in all military activities, including combat, creating a controversy which intensified during the Gulf War in 1991. Schroeder saw combat restriction as just another job hurdle, pointing out that in modern warfare, women at command headquarters and supply depots were already exposed to fire. The military, she said, was "the last tree house" where women were still being denied education and training. As chair of the House Armed Services subcommittee on research and technology, she led a drive to convert defense technology for use in law enforcement and women's health care.

During the first Clinton administration, starting in 1993, several other acts sponsored by Schroeder were signed into law. In addition to the Family and Medical Leave Act, these included part of an omnibus health bill to include women and minorities in research studies at the National Institutes of Health; an act to give child-care providers access to information on child abusers; an act to garnish the wages of federal retirees in cases of child abuse; and an act to strengthen law enforcement agencies in combatting violent crimes against women. She also voted to increase funding for cancer screening for low-income women, and to further improve child-support collection. She introduced legislation together with Barbara-Rose Collins (D-Michigan) to prevent female genital mutilation (also known as female circumcision) from being performed in the United States.

At 55, Schroeder announced her plan to retire at the end of her term in 1996, eager to explore new options while still young enough to do so successfully. She inclined toward a career in education, believing that education was the key to ending poverty. With the flair for coining memorable phrases that had contributed so much to her visibility and success, Schroeder suggested, "Perhaps we should call schools 'stadiums'; they'd get more attention." Iconoclastic to the end, in the spring of 1996 she was the lone dissenter when the House of Representatives voted 404–1 to bestow a Congressional Gold Medal on Reverend Billy Graham.

By the time of her retirement, Patricia Schroeder was the longest-serving woman in Congress, widely respected not only for her tireless efforts on behalf of women and children, but for her shrewd study of arms control and economics. "Unfortunately, the Washington I'm leaving is meaner than it was when I arrived," she wrote, "and that's not good for any of us…. They're all about ideology now."


Barth, Irene. "Congresswoman Pat Schroeder," in Ms. June 1976, p. 62.

Chamberlin, Hope. A Minority of Members: Women in the U.S. Congress. NY: Praeger, 1973.

Dowd, Maureen. "Women Who Would Be President: Patricia Schroeder: Uncompromising Free Spirit," in McCall's. June 1990, p. 66.

Newsweek. November 24, 1975, p. 77; December 18, 1995, p. 38.

Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives. "Patricia S. Schroeder," in Women in Congress: 1917–1990. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991.

O'Reilly, Jane, and Gloria Jacobs. "Watch Pat Run," in Ms. February 1988, p. 44.

People Weekly. September 7, 1987, p. 40.

Reynolds, Barbara. "The Move To Outlaw Female Genital Mutilation," in Ms. July–August 1994, p. 92.

Schroeder, Pat, with Andrea Camp and Robyn Lipner. Champion of the Great American Family: A Personal and Political Book. NY: Random House, 1989.

Summers, Anne. "Pat Schroeder: Fighting for Military Moms," in Ms. May–June 1991, p. 90.

U.S. News and World Report. December 12, 1982.

Viorst, Judith. "Congresswoman Pat Schroeder: The Woman Who Has a Bear By the Tail," in Redbook. Vol. 142, no. 1. November 1973, p. 97.

Will, George. Newsweek. August 17, 1987, p. 76.

Kristie Miller , author of Ruth Hanna McCormick: A Life in Politics 1880–1944, (University of New Mexico Press, 1992)

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Schroeder, Patricia (1940—)

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