The Honorable Claudine Schneider
"Not until I came to Congress did I realize, ‘Wow, there are a lot of inequities.’ Not insofar as how I was treated, but more in terms of the laws themselves. ‘What about making sure that women have access to education, or scholarships, or health care? And what do you mean you want to tell a woman what she can do with her body? That’s not the role of government. That doesn’t belong here.’ So, yes, there were many things that opened my eyes as a young woman in a governing body that had dominion over this country."
—The Honorable Claudine Schneider, January 20, 2016
U.S. Representative from Rhode Island (January 3, 1981–January 3, 1991)
During her decade in the U.S. House of Representatives, Claudine Schneider viewed herself as a problem solver, not a politician. Schneider surprised many experts when she overcame several perceived obstacles of the era—her young age and gender—as well as a lack of political experience to win one of Rhode Island’s two House seats. In her oral history, Schneider discusses her path to running for Congress in 1978 and 1980. Her grassroots campaigns included visits to local bowling alleys, hospitals, and grocery stores, contributing to her eventual defeat of the incumbent Edward Beard.
As a Congresswoman, Schneider had a reputation as coalition builder. A member of the “Gypsy Moths” (a group of moderate Republicans who represented New England and Midwestern districts) with allies on both sides of the aisle, she often found herself courted by the Republican Leadership and President Ronald Reagan. In her interview, Schneider explains her approach to politics which included a global perspective, independent thinking, and an emphasis on environmentalism. She also speaks of the evolving role of the Congresswomen’s Caucus, which she credited with bringing attention to lesser-known, but significant issues affecting women. Schneider observes how it took her election to the House to realize the gender discrimination embedded in many laws. The Rhode Island Congresswoman reflects on some of the subtle differences she perceived between her male and female colleagues, such as the motivation to run for Congress and the attention paid to Members in committee or during floor proceedings based on gender. Rooted in her own political experience, Schneider highlights the importance of women running for Congress and being active within the institution.
SCHNEIDER, Claudine, a Representative from Rhode Island; born Claudine Cmarada in Clairton, Pa., March 25, 1947; attended parochial schools; studied at the University of Barcelona, Spain, and Rosemont College (Pa.); B.A., Windham College (Vt.), 1969; attended University of Rhode Island School of Community Planning; founder, Rhode Island Committee on Energy, 1973; executive director, Conservation Law Foundation, 1974; federal coordinator, Rhode Island Coastal Zone Management Program, 1978; producer and host of public affairs television program, Providence, R.I., 1978–1979; elected as a Republican to the Ninety-seventh and to the four succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1981–January 3, 1991); was not a candidate for reelection in 1990 to the One Hundred Second Congress but was an unsuccessful nominee for the United States Senate; member of the faculty, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
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The Honorable Claudine Schneider remembers her parents pushing her to pursue gendered career options.
Claudine for Congress
When it came to campaign buttons, Congresswoman Schneider wanted the emphasis to be on her first name. After her first unsuccessful bid for Congress, members of the district sported “Next Time, Claudine” bumper stickers. For her second campaign, she used a slogan that already had a ring to it.
"Next Time, Claudine"
The Honorable Claudine Schneider remembers community support after losing her first election to Congress and her motivation to run a second time.
Gender, Age, and Congress
The Honorable Claudine Schneider discusses her constituents' range of opinions about electing a woman to Congress.
The Honorable Claudine Schneider reflects on how it was easier to raise money during her second run for Congress in 1980.
The Honorable Claudine Schneider describes an event that sparked support from women during her campaign in 1980.
"A Wait-and-See Attitude"
The Honorable Claudine Schneider remembers interacting with male Members shortly after her arrival in Congress.
Unsuccessful Committee Bid
The Honorable Claudine Schneider describes her attempt to get on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Motivation to Run for Congress
The Honorable Claudine Schneider explains how she asked Members why they ran for national office and the different answers she received from men and women.
"Congress Needs a Conscience"
The Honorable Claudine Schneider shares a memory of Representative Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey.
The Honorable Claudine Schneider remembers balancing her personal values with her party's policy positions.
The "Gypsy Moths"
The Honorable Claudine Schneider recalls being noticed by President Reagan for her coalition-building skills.
"Wait a Minute, I am a Feminist"
The Honorable Claudine Schneider recalls being motivated to address inequalities in the law for women.
Jeannette Rankin's Statue
The Honorable Claudine Schneider shares a memory of unveiling the Jeannette Rankin statue for the National Statuary Hall Collection.
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