As a published author, I am grateful for everything Pat Schroeder, the former head of the Association of American Publishers who died last month, did for the publishing industry. As a retired Air Force officer, I am also grateful for her tireless advocacy for military women during her years in Congress—work that history has largely forgotten.

Schroeder’s pursuit of equality for military women was partly personal. Born into a military family, she tried to join the Air Force ROTC unit when she enrolled at the University of Minnesota. But it was 1957, and the Air Force turned her down flat. At that time, women only received commissions after paying for their own college and then being accepted by the services for an officer candidate school.

Undaunted, Schroeder earned her pilot’s license on her own and ran a small flying operation to help pay her tuition.

After Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and the draft ended in 1973, more women entered the military. By then, ROTC had opened to women, but women pushed to attend the service academies—West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy. Those schools remained off-limits; the services claimed that their purpose was to train combat officers, and women were forbidden from combat by laws passed in 1948.

In 1974, Schroeder cosponsored legislation to open the academies to women. During Congressional hearings in May that year, she was the first person to testify on behalf of admitting women. Schroeder was adept at using the Department of Defense’s own data against it. She produced a DOD-prepared chart showing that academy graduates had a substantial advantage over other officers in promotions to general and admiral. Without access to the academies, women would struggle to achieve those highest of military ranks.

Schroeder also demonstrated that the academies trained more than just combat officers. She pointed to the one-quarter of Air Force Academy graduates who did not end up in combat positions, and noted that in the Army, 85% of officer positions did not involve direct combat. There were many jobs for women graduates.

Schroeder was known for her acerbic wit, which she employed in the fight for equality for military women. Pushing back against the military’s concerns about the cost of building facilities to accommodate women, Schroeder recounted her experience as one of the first women to attend Harvard: “I got so tired of the dean saying how many volumes he could have bought for the library if they had not had to build a women’s restroom.”

In 1976, Schroeder and her allies finally won their fight, and the academies opened their doors to women. Even with that opportunity, women were prevented from pursuing careers in the combat arms by the 1948 laws. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Schroeder continued the fight for more opportunities for military women, while waiting for the right time to repeal the laws.

Throughout her career in Congress and later at AAP, Schroeder picked the time and place for her battles, came to the fight armed with data, and played the long game.

That moment came in 1991. By the time the last shot was fired in the Gulf War on February 28 that year, it was clear to the U.S. public that the military could no longer go to war without women. Americans also had accepted the idea that women could serve in hostile areas.

A few days after the end of the war, the House Armed Services Committee began hearings on the 1992 defense budget. The timing was perfect to repeal the combat exclusion laws, and Schroeder pounced. She, along with Beverly Byron, slipped provisions to repeal the laws into the budget authorization bill, and on May 22, the House passed the bill, startling the services and others who opposed women in combat. The Senate later passed a similar bill, but the opposition succeeded in stalling implementation for nearly two more years.

Finally, on Apr. 28, 1993, Schroeder’s patience and persistence paid off when Secretary of Defense Les Aspin announced that combat aircraft would open to women. The Air Force introduced the first three women who would become fighter pilots that same day.

Throughout her career in Congress and later at the AAP, Schroeder picked the time and place for her battles, came to the fight armed with data, and played the long game—tools that served her well during a lifetime devoted to helping others. As this woman of great passion and character once said, “I always preferred having wings to having things.”

The Fly Girls Revolt: The Story of the Women Who Kicked Open the Door to Fly in Combat