"'Why are you running as a woman?'" she said journalists would ask her. "I would want to play with it, but you can't be too smart-alecky or you sound awful." So Schroeder answered, "What choice do I have?"
Part of the problem, she said, is how Americans envision the president. The ABC television show "Commander in Chief," starring Geena Davis, helps people develop a new way of seeing a president, she said.
"We have this huge macho cowboys thing," said Schroeder, 65, who is now president of the Association of American Publishers. Presidents are "out there playing touch football, chopping wood and riding a horse, and Americans have come to expect that kind of stuff, and it's very hard to figure out what a woman does. People couldn't get over the novelty to get to the content -- the novelty of being a girl."
And when women occupy only 15.1 percent of the 535 seats in the current Congress (there are 14 women in the Senate and 81 in the House of Representatives), a woman politician is still something of a novelty.
Wilson said she would like to see the United States develop a quota system similar to the one in South Africa, in which 30 percent of parliament seats must go to women. Even the new governments in Iraq and Afghanistan have quotas that put a higher ratio of women in government than currently serve in the United States, Wilson said.
"When you have a quota system, then you start to hold people's feet to the fire," she said. "Here all we can do is hope for political will -- to become the democracy that we are asking other countries to be."
Yet Condoleezza Rice, who first served as national security adviser and now as secretary of state, is among the world's most powerful people. She was preceded by Madeline Albright, the first female secretary of state. Until Sandra Day O'Connor's recent retirement, two women, she and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sat on the nine-member Supreme Court.
That is a far cry from what the situation was when Schroeder entered Congress in 1973. Then a woman on Capitol Hill wasn't just a novelty but an anomaly. Schroeder said she was in charge of planning the nation's bicentennial celebration and had dinner with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Katherine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, to discuss the event. Some male senators were opposed to including a book called "Remember the Ladies," which was about Abigail Adams, Martha Washington and other women who helped shape America. The three of them were trying to figure out how to persuade the senators to recognize the book for the celebration.
"I remember thinking, 'The two most powerful women in America that I know cannot get these guys to change their minds,'" Schroeder said. "That was a real eye-opener."