Sisterhood Blog

Edie Windsor on TIME's Top Five

By Naomi Zeveloff

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Edie Windsor, the plaintiff who toppled the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court, was named the number three runner up for Person of the Year by TIME magazine; she’s also the only woman on the list of five. (Number one was Pope Francis, and number two was NSA leaker Edward Snowden.)

The Forward also named Windsor in its top five list on the Forward 50, our annual ranking of people who have made the biggest difference in the American Jewish story. (We placed her at number two, after Newtown mother Veronique Pozner.)

TIME reporter Eliza Gray wrote a moving profile of Windsor (make sure to watch the gorgeous video that accompanies it), which fills in some details about her Jewish background, including a surprising anecdote about how her mother taught her to counter anti-Semitism:

Edith Windsor, who has always been called Edie, was born in 1929, the youngest of three, to James and Celia Schlain, immigrants from Russia who owned and lived above a candy and ice cream store in a poor part of Philadelphia. When Windsor was 2, the store was quarantined after she and her brother got polio. Her parents lost the store and their house. Despite this, Edie was sheltered from the Depression—her father took a hard-boiled-egg sandwich to work every day for lunch so he could buy books, and little Edie read voraciously. (She still has in her apartment the 19-volume dictionary her father used to learn English.) She was not sheltered from anti-Semitism. Her mother taught her that if a boy called her “a dirty Jew,” she should pull his hair and run home.

Windsor ended up marrying a man, and kept his last name after she divorced him less than a year after their wedding. She met her future wife, Thea Spyer, at a restaurant in 1963. Spyer proposed in 1967; four decades later, the two finally married in Toronto. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax on Spyer’s estate because of DOMA. That injustice formed the basis for Windsor’s lawsuit against the federal government to ensure that gay and lesbian couples receive the same benefits as married heterosexual couples. The rest, as they say, is history.

Watch our interview with Roberta Kaplan, Windsor’s lawyer, for the Forward 50:


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