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Our View: Pat Schroeder: A woman for all times

Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder didn’t shy away from motherhood.
Congresswoman did meaningful work, while being an attentive parent

Recently, parents in our office shared anecdotes about doing journalism with a little one in a BabyBjörn – a strapped-on baby carrier – or a toddler on a hip or a preschooler coloring nearby. This was occasional and meant we were in a child-care jam. But it was important to make that press conference or interview in a coffee shop with a quiet child in tow.

Editors, reporters and freelancers, we were doing our jobs. Note, jobs is plural, as in the jobs at our newspapers and magazines, as well as lifelong gigs as parents. From unprofessional and ridiculous to pragmatic, dedicated and encouraging – we were called all of that. Everyone had an opinion.

Most of the time, though, our interviewees gave us a break. Remarkably, some sources were visibly more relaxed and open to talking about difficult topics with a baby at the table. When our children were school-age, we’d joke that we’d sure like to borrow a baby for an interview expected to be trying.

One co-worker even tried to put her little one in a cardboard box under her desk, but that didn’t fly. There was a newspaper guild, after all. There were limits. But we watched how long she’d get away with it. (Not long.)

Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, who died on March 13 at 82, had inspired us, in her time, before ours. She modeled that we could do meaningful, professional work and be attentive parents, too. A Harvard-educated lawyer, the Democrat and first woman elected to Congress in our state, Schroeder was that person. A young mother in collegiate sweaters and skirts, and a bouncy ponytail.

With our own children, the early years were short – the afternoons long. But decades before, Schroeder treaded that path. And we’re grateful she did.

At media events, Schroeder was open and sassy with a warmth about her. Quick to laugh, she showed us some of who she was, unlike other guarded, stodgy politicians in the room.

Schroeder, who represented Colorado’s 1st Congressional District from 1972 to 1996, was a veritable treasure trove of knowledge. Besides being a driving force behind the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, she championed laws to reform spousal pensions, forced federally funded medical researchers to include women in their studies and opened military jobs to women. A pilot herself, Schroeder was key in getting women in cockpits on combat missions by 1995.

Known for her wit and catchy quips, she branded President Ronald Reagan the “Teflon” president because bad policy decisions didn’t stick, and said Vice President Dan Quayle thinks “Roe v. Wade are two ways to cross the Potomac.” She called defense contractors “the welfare queens of the ’80s.”

But Schroeder may be most famous for her comeback as a newbie congresswoman. When asked by a congressman how she could be both a mother and a congresswoman, she said, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use them both.” Legendary, especially for that time.

In 1987, she tested the waters for the presidency. “I realized that America was not man enough to elect a woman,” she said.

Schroeder would have made a fine president.

She served on the House Armed Services Committee for 24 years. Despite her seniority, she was never appointed to head a committee. This was one glass ceiling she did not shatter.

Something else about Schroeder. Besides being a vibrant speaker, reliable for quotes and sound bites, she was a smart writer.

In September 2004 in The Denver Post, she wrote about being a grandparent and the “one-dimensional understanding of older voters like us. Watch out, because there are lots of us – and we vote, big-time.”

In September 2022, Schroeder reflected on the midterms. “Now hate and humiliation seems to rule,” she said. “Many have asked, ‘what binds us together?’

“We have two ears and one mouth, and yet we talk way more than we listen. No wonder we can’t hear our common humanity.”

Schroeder stayed relevant and reflective to the end, and shared perspectives on sexism, stable and diverse economies, a planet in need of balance, and whether our world would come together or apart. And always, work and family life.