Windsor spent her later years fighting for the marriage between her and her late wife to be recognized, becoming a hero following the landmark civil rights case of United States v. Windsor.
Edith Windsor, the woman synonymous with the fight for LGBT equality in the United States and whose 2013 Supreme Court victory declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, died Tuesday. She was 88 years old.
Her death was confirmed to the New York Times by her wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, whom she married in 2016. No cause of death was provided.
Windsor's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, told BuzzFeed News Tuesday she died peacefully.
An extremely successful and career-minded woman, as well as a loving and devoted wife, Windsor would become an unlikely pioneer for LGBT rights late in life. She dedicated those later years to fighting for her own love story to be recognized as equal, bringing the case of United Sates v. Windsor into the history books and setting one of the most influential legal precedents in the fight for marriage equality. Her personal life was inseparable from the cause she fought for so valiantly.
“The idea that I might be a piece of history blows my mind,” Windsor told BuzzFeed in 2013.
Former president Barack Obama said he spoke with Windsor a few days ago “to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love.”
“Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America,” he said of her passing.
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Windsor was born Edith Schlain in 1929, the youngest of three children to Jewish Russian immigrants James and Celia Schlain in Philadelphia. Despite her family losing their home and business during the depression, Windsor graduated from high school and would continue on to earn a degree from Temple University. It was at university where she would first fall in love with another woman.
Despite those feelings, she married a man named Saul Windsor in May of 1951 — later breaking it off as she finally came to terms with her own sexuality. “I wanted to be like everybody else. You marry a man who supports you — it never occurred to me I'd have to earn a living, and nor did I study to earn a living,” she said.
Windsor would go one to do much more than simply “earn a living,” as she started a new life in New York City. After graduating with a master's degree in mathematics from NYU in 1957, she would join IBM and climb to the highest technical title of senior systems programmer. She was among the first to receive an IBM PC in New York City and would later found and act as president of PC Classics Inc., a software house specializing in consulting.
Her career was taking off, but her social life was virtually nonexistent. Windsor began to explore the lesbian scene in New York City's West Village, begging her friends to take her “where the lesbians go.” They readily obliged.
The night she finally met Thea Spyer, a doctor of clinical psychology, in a small bar in the West Village, Windsor recalls that the two danced until she had a hole in her stocking. After this initial meeting, it would be two more years until they started dating, and another 40 before they were legally married. Spyer proposed with a circle pin adorned with diamonds instead of an engagement ring, and Windsor was seen wearing it until her death. Windsor referred to the years before the two were married as “just dancing.”