Remembering Feminist Pioneer Pat Schroeder  

“I have a brain, I have a uterus, and I use both.”

Silk Screened on T-shirts and emblazed on thousands of handmade signs carried at countless women’s marches and rallies for decades, this empowering quote is pure Pat Schroeder, the trailblazing feminist Congresswoman who recently passed away at 82.

I wonder how many young women know that this familiar quote is 50 years old?

And said at a time when women still required a man in order to get a credit card.

Pat Schroeder 1973 and her child

How could a mother of 2 small children possibly be a member of Congress too? Pat Schroeder 1973

The quip was the freshman Colorado congresswoman’s response in the early 1970s to being asked by a colleague how she could possibly be a mother of 2 small children and a member of Congress at the same time.

The year was 1973 and this would not be the last time the question would be asked of her or other working women for years to come.

With her trademark wit and tenacity, Pat Schroeder spent 24 years in the U.S. House loudly fighting a patriarchal establishment, undeterred when it came to family and women’s issues

She took on the old boys club, which she cheekily called “the guy gulag” shaking up stodgy government institutions.

Congress was not her first brush with the old boy’s club.

The first day that she walked into her classroom at Harvard Law in 1961, the young men on either side of her got up and said, “We are changing our seats. We have never sat next to a girl in our entire education. We’re not going to now.”

Fortunately, not all male Harvard law students would be so chauvinistic.

The following year, Pat met her soon-to-be husband Jim Schroeder another Harvard classmate. They married and moved to Colorado where she worked as legal counsel for Planned Parenthood.

In 1972 when her husband’s half-jokingly suggested she run for a congressional seat, the young mother with a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old took him up on it, running on an anti-war and feminist platform.

Campaign poster 1972

At 32 when this young attractive lawyer announced her candidacy for congress, one of the newspapers declared, “Denver Housewife announces for Congress.” No one would have anything to do with her. Even her party. She was a long shot.

The writing on the wall in 1972 was that Richard Nixon would beat George McGovern in a landslide in the presidential race, and no one running on the Democratic ticket would have a chance. Nonetheless, she was fearless and her campaign was full of energy, optimism, and hope. Schroeder’s slogan: “If she wins, we win.”

And she won.

Pat Schroeder, right, happily addresses a gathering of about 600 Democrats at the party’s headquarters in the Albany Hotel after she was declared winner in the First Congressional District in 1972. She defeated Republican Mike McKevitt, former Denver district attor­ney, who served one term in the House of Representatives. (Photo by The Denver Post)

She made history in 1972 as Colorado’s first woman elected to serve in Congress defeating a Republican incumbent, shocking the political establishment.

When Pat Shroeder was first elected to Congress many women didn’t work outside the home at all much less in one of the most famous buildings in the world.

Women weren’t taken seriously.

Schroeder was a pioneer for women and family rights in Congress

1972 was a vastly different world for women Grassroots feminism was gaining stream but there was far to go.

Even as a newly minted congresswoman a bank could still legally refuse to issue her credit in her own name.

This was the law until Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 was signed into law by President Ford. Prior to that, a bank could refuse to issue a credit card to an unmarried woman and if a woman was married her husband was required to co-sign. Many banks required single, divorced, or widowed women to bring a man with them to cosign for a credit card or mortgage.

Women could not be guaranteed they wouldn’t get fired for getting pregnant. Women didn’t get this protection until 1978 when the “Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978” prohibited sexual discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, a bill Shroeder helped pass.

And it was only in 1972 that the Supreme court granted unmarried women legal access to birth control a right previously only given to married women.

Old Habits Die Hard on the Hill

The male dominance of Congress made for some difficult moments for pioneering women. When Schroeder first took office in January 1973 she was only one of 14 women in a 435-member fraternity

“I felt as if I had broken into and entered a private club,” Schroeder recalled. “Most of my new colleagues considered me a mascot or novelty as if Denver voters had mistakenly thought “Pat” meant “Patrick.”

She would be shooed from the parking lot told secretaries can’t park there or told she couldn’t ride an elevator.

Though some male colleagues tried to dismiss her as “Little Patsy” voters elected her 11 more times.

One of the most glaring sexist things Schroeder encountered in her early days was how she was introduced to people which was so different from how male colleagues were introduced. Tip O Neill was one of the worst offenders.

When the then-speaker of the house would introduce Schroeder as “Jim Schroeder’s wife, ” she turned the tables on him and introduced him  at a Washington function “This is Millie O’Neill’s husband!”

Who Wears the Pants in the Family?

Congresswoman could pass laws and sponsor bills but they couldn’t wear pants to work in the Senat until 1993.

Slacks and pantsuits only began entering the mainstream of acceptable workwear for women around 1970, when they were first allowed at federal agencies, including the State Department and the Pentagon—though they were still forbidden at the FBI until after J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972; he hated seeing women in pants.

Around the same time, fashion norms started to change in the House of Representatives: Rep. Charlotte T. Reid, a Republican from Illinois, made history in 1969 when she showed up to the House in a black wool, bell-bottomed pantsuit … a first in the annals of the U.S. Congress. One male colleague couldn’t believe it, remarking to Reid, “I was told there was a lady here in trousers, so I had to come over and see for myself.”

A Seat at The Table

Pat was strong and determined and insisted on a seat at the table. Even if she wasn’t always offered a chair.

Schroeder, who opposed the Vietnam War, was the first woman appointed to the powerful House Armed Services Committee.

She was appointed at the same time the first Black man was chosen for the committee. The chairman, former Louisiana Rep. F. Edward Hébert, was so peeved that a woman and a Black man had been put on the committee that he only reserved one seat for them to share.

Which they did with dignity and pride.

She went to war with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich for his sexist comments suggesting women shouldn’t serve in combat because they could get infections from being in a ditch for 30 days. When she first joined Congress time women could not serve in combat and were only allowed in the military as nurses or support staff

She’d take on anybody and take them on with wit and humor.

In 1992 when Clinton came in they finally had 10% of Congress female.

One colleague came up to her and said “Well I hope you’re happy. This place looks like a fucking shopping mall.” She retorted “Where do you shop where there’s only 10% women?”

She never gave up the fight.

Neither should we


Pat Schroeder

One of Schroeder’s favorite sayings:” A woman’s place is in the House…of Representatives.” RIP March 13, 2023





  1. Thank goodness for women like Pat Schroeder. If only we had been able to hang on to more of her legacy. Here we are, back at the beginning, where having a uterus means we can’t decide for ourselves what to do with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s hard to imagine the same state that sent a progressive feminist to Congress also sent a Maga Lovin’,no compromise-ultra conservative, pistol packin’ Mama,-Lauren Boebert. They not have a lot in common other than the state they both represented but the latter owes much to Schroeder for paving the way for women in Congress.


  2. Karen Gutfreund

    What a fascinating story—as always brilliantly written. Thanks Sally!


    • I’m so glad you got to see this and enjoy it. She is so deserving to be honored and remembered and there wasn’t the fanfare for her passing as there should have been. She was a real trailblazer and a spitfire.


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