The Life and Legacy of Edith Windsor

As many of you may know, Edith Windsor, the pioneer for marriage equality in the United States tragically passed away on Tuesday, September 12th. Because many are upset about her passing (I know I am), it is important to look back and remember all that she had accomplished in her 88 years of life.

Edith Windsor, born Edith Schlain on June 20th, 1929 in Philadelphia to James and Celia Schlain, was a Russian Jewish immigrant and, because of the time in which she was born, her family suffered from the Great Depression. However, Windsor persevered and earned a master’s in mathematics from NYU and eventually joined IBM, where she worked for sixteen years. While in college, Edith met Saul Windsor. Their relationship ended once when Saul discovered that Edith had fallen in love with a female classmate. Edith, however, said that she did not wish to be a lesbian and proceeded to marry Saul. This marriage did not last very long as after a year of her tying the knot, Edith told him that she longed to be with women and they divorced. She then moved from Philadelphia to New York City.

While in New York, Edith met Thea Spyer. Both in relationships of their own, they had to keep their relationship a secret. While Windsor was working for IBM, she received multiple phone calls from Thea Spyer. In order to conceal her sexual orientation, she told her colleagues that she was speaking to Thea’s brother, a fictitious person named Willy who, comically, was the name of Windsor’s childhood doll.

“Like countless other same-sex couples, we engaged in a constant struggle to balance our love for one another and our desire to live openly and with dignity, on the one hand, with our fear of disapproval and discrimination from others on the other.”

In 1967, Spyer asked Windsor to marry her. Windsor was again afraid that her sexuality would be discovered, so Spyer proposed to her with a diamond brooch. Unfortunately, Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977. Fearing that she would not be alive to see same-sex marriage legalized, they got legally married in Canada in 2007.

Tragically, Thea Spyer passed away in 2009, which left Edith with a large tax bill that heterosexual couples would not have after the death of a spouse because the legal definition of marriage in the US did not include same-sex couples. Sensing the inequality, Edith decided to sue the federal government. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual couples. This milestone of equality was one of the catalysts that led to the Obergefell vs. Hodges case in 2015 that deemed the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

In addition to her pivotal role in achieving marriage equality, Windsor also volunteered with the Gay and Lesbian and Defenders (GLAD), the East End Gay Organization, the LGBT Community Center, and more. Edith Windsor is considered a pioneer for marriage equality and she certainly deserves the title. Thanks to Windsor, same-sex couples across the US can now marry the person they love with the full benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy today. It is my hope that Windsor can inspire others to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community and help fight bigotry around the world. Edith Windsor is unfortunately gone but she will never be forgotten. She will continue to inspire the LGBTQ community to be proud and to fight for the rights they justly deserve.


Originally published at TravelPRIDE.