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On March 25th, 1947 Claudine Schneider, the first woman elected from Rhode Island to the U.S. House of Representatives, was born.
Elected in 1980, the political trailblazer also was the first Republican Representative to serve the state in more than 40 years. During her five terms in Congress, Schneider earned a reputation as one of the House’s strongest environmental advocates. She founded the Rhode Island Committee on Energy in 1973, and became executive director of the Conservation Law Foundation the following year. Also in 1974, she led a group of concerned community and environmental groups, launching the first successful campaign in the United States to halt the construction of a nuclear power plant near her home in Charlestown, Rhode Island.
As a Republican in a historically Democratic state and a young woman with little political background, Schneider appealed to the voters of her district with an independent streak and willingness to take on local and national issues. As the chilly relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union began to thaw in the mid-80s, Schneider worked on ways that she and her congressional colleagues could improve relations between the two countries. Schneider collaborated with another House Member, Representative George Brown of California, a colleague on the Science and Technology Committee, to develop a landmark series of televised conversations between American and Soviet lawmakers called Congressbridge. Schneider and Brown, encouraged by the Soviet willingness to pull back the Iron Curtain, felt the time was right to put the technology to use so they built support in and out of Congress for the ground-breaking project which used satellite technology for “face-to-face” meetings.
After leaving Congress in 1991, Schneider remained active in the environmental protection movement. She invested in a Massachusetts-based consulting company, which sold environmentally sound energy systems in Central and South America and also accepted a teaching position at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.