Patricia Schroeder, a trailblazing feminist legislator who helped redefine the role of women in American politics and used her wit to combat egregious sexism in Congress, died on Monday. She was 82.
She died at a hospital in Celebration, Fla., from complications from a stroke, her daughter, Jamie Cornish, said in an email.
Ms. Schroeder, who was a pilot and a Harvard-trained lawyer, had a long and distinguished career in the House of Representatives. She was a driving force behind passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which guaranteed women and men up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member.
She helped pass the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which barred employers from dismissing women because they were pregnant and from denying them maternity benefits. And she championed laws that helped reform spousal pensions, opened military jobs to women and forced federally funded medical researchers to include women in their studies.
Elected in 1972 as an opponent of the Vietnam War, Ms. Schroeder served on the Armed Services Committee for all 24 years she was in Congress. From that perch, she called for arms control and reduced military spending.
She worked to improve benefits for military personnel and persuaded the committee to recommend that women be allowed to fly combat missions; Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered it so in 1993, and by 1995, the first female fighter pilot was flying in combat. That only further outraged Ms. Schroeder’s critics on the right, like Lt. Col. Oliver North, who called her one of the nation’s 25 most dangerous politicians.
One of the most enduring public images of Ms. Schroeder is of her crying when she announced in 1987 that she would not run for president. At an outdoor event in Denver, she choked up with emotion, pressed a tissue to her eyes, and at one point leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder. That outraged some feminists, who said her tears had reinforced stereotypes and set back the cause of women seeking office.
It was an ironic charge against a woman who had done so much to promote that cause. Ms. Schroeder was the first woman elected to Congress from Colorado and the first to serve on the Armed Services Committee. She had to fight blatant discrimination from the start, facing questions about how, as the mother of two young children, she could function as both a mother and a lawmaker.
“I have a brain and a uterus and I use both,” she responded.
A longer version of this obituary will be published later.
Vivek Shankar contributed reporting.