Two years after U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, D-Colorado, introduced the family leave measure in 1985, Jane Johnson took an arm full of freshly cut lilacs from her garden and presented them to Schroeder after her speaking engagement at Miami University Hamilton.
Johnson said she wanted to show Schroeder appreciation because of the advancements of the family leave bill, which provided job protection for care of a newborn, a sick child or a parent that eventually was signed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, had on her family and all families.
In 1987, Schroeder was the keynote speaker at a MUH lecture series when she talked about her possible presidential run. She announced three months later that she would not run and said her “tears signify compassion, not weakness.”
Schroeder, a pioneer for women’s and family rights during her 24 years in Congress, suffered a stroke recently and died at a Florida hospital. She was 82.
Schroeder, then Patricia Nell Scott, attended Hamilton City Schools, though it’s unclear for how many years, according to district records. Her family moved often, ending up in Des Moines, where she graduated high school.
Johnson said her daughter, Kimberly Reese, had a baby in 1988 who was born at 25 weeks, five days, weighing one pound, 12 1/2 ounces. The girl, named Rachel, was born at St. Ann’s Hospital in Columbus, then transferred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.
She remained in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for three months.
Since Rachel was listed on her mother’s health insurance, Reese had to return to work. No work. No benefits.
Johnson, who worked 32 years as a nurse in the Ross School District, spent the weekends in Columbus, helping her daughter and son-in-law balance their work and parenting duties.
Other families weren’t so fortunate.
Johnson said she remembered ICU nurses calling parents at work updating them on their child’s condition. Sometimes it was the worst news possible. They were at work when their child died.
When Rachel was released from the hospital and still needed constant medical care at home, Reese’s supervisor overrode the company policy and allowed her time off work without penalty.
“That was so important to my family,” said Johnson, who said her granddaughter recently became a mother when Maeve was born.
Johnson, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, said she appreciated all the tireless work completed by Schroeder during her political career.
Schroeder was elected to Congress in Colorado in 1972 and became one of its most influential Democrats as she was re-elected 11 times.
Asked by one congressman how she could be a mother of two small children and a member of Congress at the same time, she replied: “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.”
She helped pass the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which barred employers from dismissing women because they were pregnant and from denying them maternity benefits.
Johnson hopes the lessons taught by Schroeder years ago aren’t forgotten today.
“People don’t know history,” Johnson said. “It’s important to know history. When mistakes are made, it’s so critical those mistakes are corrected next time.”
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