Edith Windsor

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Edith "Edie" Windsor
Born Edith Schlain
(1929-06-20) June 20, 1929 (age 88)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Residence New York City, New York
Alma mater New York University and Temple University
Employer IBM
Known for United States v. Windsor
Movement LGBT rights
Spouse(s) Saul Windsor (?-?; div.)
Thea Clara Spyer (m. 2007; Spyer's death 2009)
Judith Kasen (m. 2016)
Awards see below
Website ediewindsor.com

Edith "Edie" Windsor (née Schlain; born June 20, 1929) is an American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activist and a former technology manager at IBM. She was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court of the United States case United States v. Windsor, which successfully overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and was considered a landmark legal victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States.

Personal life[edit]

Windsor, the youngest of three, was born on June 20, 1929 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to James and Celia Schlain, a Russian Jewish immigrant family of modest means.[1][2][3] During her childhood, her family suffered as a result of the Great Depression, and father lost both his candy-and-ice-cream store and their home above it.[1][4] In school, she at times experienced anti-Semitism.[2][5] Throughout school, she dated boys her age, but said later she recalls having crushes on girls.[2][6]

She received her bachelor's degree from Temple University in 1950.[1][7] During college, she met Saul Windsor. Their relationship ended at one time during the engagement when Windsor fell in love with a female classmate. However, after Windsor decided she did not want to live life as a lesbian, they reconciled and got married after graduation. They divorced less than one year afterward,[2][8] and she confided in him that she longed to be with women.[2][9] Shortly after her divorce, Windsor left Philadelphia for New York City.[10] In 1955, she began pursuing a master's degree in mathematics, which she obtained from New York University in 1957.[1][2][5] She then joined IBM, where she worked for the next sixteen years. During this time, she spent two semesters studying applied mathematics at Harvard University on an IBM fellowship.[1]

Windsor met Thea Spyer, a psychologist, in 1963 at Portofino, a restaurant in Greenwich Village. When they initially met, each was already in a relationship. They occasionally saw each other at events over the next two years, but it was not until a trip to the East End of Long Island in the late spring of 1965 that they began dating each other.[1][5][10][11] To help keep the relationship a secret from her co-workers, Windsor invented a relationship with Spyer's fictional brother Willy — who was actually a childhood doll belonging to Windsor — to explain Spyer's phone calls to the office.[2] In 1967, Spyer asked Windsor to marry, although it was not yet legal anywhere in the United States.[9] Fearing that a traditional engagement ring might expose Windsor's sexual orientation to her coworkers, Spyer instead proposed with a circular diamond pin.[1][5][10]

Six months after getting engaged, Windsor and Spyer moved into an apartment in Greenwich Village. In 1968, they purchased a small house on Long Island together, where they vacation the following forty summers.[1][2][5]

The couple often took trips both in the United States and internationally. They also entertained at their home frequently, with Spyer preparing meals, including an annual Memorial Day weekend celebration of their anniversary.[1][2]

In 1977, Spyer was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis. The disease caused a gradual, but ever-increasing paralysis. Windsor utilized her early retirement to become a full-time caregiver for Spyer, and the couple continued to adjust their daily behavior to accommodate.[1][5][6]

Windsor and Spyer entered a domestic partnership in New York City in 1993.[5] Registering on the first available day, they were issued certificate number eighty.[1]

Spyer suffered a heart attack in 2002 and was diagnosed with aortic stenosis. In 2007, her doctors told her she had less than a year to live. New York had not yet legalized same-sex marriage, so the couple opted to marry in Toronto, Canada on May 22, 2007[11] by Canada's first openly gay judge, Justice Harvey Brownstone[5][10] and with the assistance of a filmmaker and same-sex marriage activist familiar with the laws in both countries.[2] An announcement of their wedding was published in the New York Times.[1][2]

Spyer died from complications related to her heart condition on February 5, 2009.[2] After Spyer's death, Windsor was hospitalized with stress cardiomyopathy.[1][5][6]

On September 26, 2016, Windsor married Judith Kasen at New York City Hall. At the time of the wedding, Windsor was age 87 and Kasen was age 51.[12][13]

Professional life[edit]

While attending New York University, she worked for the university's math department, entering data into its UNIVAC. She also worked as a programmer at Combustion Engineering, Inc., where she worked with physicists and the UNIVAC.[5][14]

After receiving her master's degree in mathematics in 1957 from New York University, Windsor began work in senior technical and management positions at IBM in 1958.[2][9] Her work at IBM was primarily related to systems architecture and implementation of operating systems and natural language processors. In May 1968, she attained the title designating the highest level technical position at IBM, Senior Systems Programmer.[1] She received the first IBM PC delivered in New York City.[14] However, the company rejected her insurance form naming Spyer as a beneficiary.[5]

In 1975, IBM moved Windsor's group out of the area, and she took a severance package to focus more on her activism.[5]


In June 1969, Windsor and Spyer returned from a vacation in Italy to discover the Stonewall Riots had begun the night before. In the following years, the couple publicly participated in LGBT marches and events. They also lent their Cadillac convertible to LGBT rights organizations.[5]

Following her departure from IBM in 1975, she increased her involvement with LGBT organizations.[2][5] She volunteered for the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the East End Gay Organization,[2] the LGBT Community Center, 1994 Gay Games New York, and helped found Old Queers Acting Up, an improv group utilizing skits to address social justice issues. She served on the board of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) from 1986 to 1988 and again from 2005 to 2007.[5][14]

Since her involvement with United States v. Windsor, Windsor has spoken publicly many times advocating for same-sex marriage. She helped Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Jerrold Nadler introduce the Respect for Marriage Act at a press conference in Washington, D.C. in 2011.[5]

United States v. Windsor[edit]

Upon Spyer's death on February 5, 2009, Windsor became the executor and sole beneficiary of Spyer's estate, via a revocable trust. Windsor was required to pay $363,053 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance of her wife's estate.[1][11] Had federal law recognized the validity of their marriage, Windsor would have qualified for an unlimited spousal deduction and paid no federal estate taxes.[2][15][16]

Windsor sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. She was barred from doing so by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (codified at 1 U.S.C. § 7), which provided that the term "spouse" only applied to marriages between a man and woman. The Internal Revenue Service found that the exemption did not apply to same-sex marriages, denied Windsor's claim, and compelled her to pay $363,053 in estate taxes.[1][2][5]

On November 9, 2010, Windsor filed a lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking a refund because DOMA singled out legally married same-sex couples for "differential treatment compared to other similarly situated couples without justification."[11][17] On June 6, 2012, Judge Barbara S. Jones ruled that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional under the due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment and ordered the federal government to issue the tax refund, including interest. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in a 2-1 decision on October 18, 2012.[18][19][20]

On March 27, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments. On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5–4 decision declaring Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment."[2][11][21]:25


Sign thanking Edie Windsor at a rally supporting same-sex marriage

Windsor was honored by the National Computing Conference in 1987 as a "pioneer in operating systems".[14]

On Windsor's 70th birthday in 1999, the Edie Windsor Fund for Old Lesbians was gifted to Windsor by Spyer and their friends. It is maintained and administered by Open Meadows Foundation, and provides grants to projects for and by lesbian older adults.[14]

A 2009 documentary, "Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement", by Susan Muska and Greta Olfsdottir documents Windsor and Spyer's life and wedding.[9][14] The DVD of the film contains a full length interview with Justice Harvey Brownstone, the Canadian judge who officiated at the Windsor/Spyer wedding.

She was the Grand Marshal of the 2013 New York City LGBT Pride March.[22][23]

She was a runner-up, to Pope Francis, for 2013 Time Person of the Year.[2]

On May 22, 2014, she received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Johns Hopkins University.[22][24]

In June 2014 Windsor travelled Back to Toronto, the city where she married Thea Spyer, to receive an award at World Pride. While in Toronto she appeared on the CTV network's national morning show Canada AM with Justice Harvey Brownstone, the Toronto judge who officiated at her wedding.[25]

On June 26, 2014, Windsor was featured on Logo TV's 2014 LOGO Trailblazers.[22][26]

In 2016, Lesbians Who Tech initiated the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship Fund.


Windsor has received numerous awards related to her work in technology and LGBT activism.[14][22]

Award Presented by Date Notes
Joyce Warshaw Lifetime Achievement Award Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) October 25, 2010 [5][22]
Trailblazer in Law Award Marriage Equality New York May 19, 2011 [5][22]
Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty American Civil Liberties Union June 11, 2011 [5][22]
New York City Council Award New York City Council June 16, 2011 Presented during council's Gay Pride celebration[5][22]
Edie Windsor & Thea Spyer Equality Award The LOFT 2012 [22]
Susan B. Anthony Award National Organization for Women New York City February 15, 2012 [22]
Visionary Award NewFest 2012 [22]
Trailblazer Award New York City LGBT Community Center April 11, 2013 [22]
Eugene J. Keogh Award for Distinguished Public Service at New York University New York University May 22, 2013 [22]
Presidential Medal New York University May 24, 2013 [22]
Keeping Faith Award American Constitution Society for Law & Policy September 17, 2013 [22]
Lifetime Leadership Award National Gay & Lesbian Task Force October 8, 2013 [22]
Trailblazer of Democracy Award The Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Award October 11, 2013 [22]
Individual Leadership Award PFLAG October 14, 2013 [22]
Alumni Achievement Award New York University Graduate School of Arts and Science October 18, 2013 [22]
American Spirit Award for Citizen Activism Common Good Award November 13, 2013 [22]
Out 100 - Lifetime Achievement Award Out November 13, 2013 [22]
The Imperial Diamond Award for Vision – Support – Activism Imperial Court System New York March 29, 2014 [22]
Ovation Award Olivia Cruises 2014 [22]
Laurel Hester Award Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) - New York April 25, 2014 [22]
Women’s Rights Award American Federation of Teachers (AFT) July 14, 2014 [22]
Named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of the 2015 LGBT History Month Equality Forum 2015 [27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Affidavit of Edith Schlain Windsor" (PDF). nyclu.org. United States District Court Southern District of New York. June 23, 2011. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Eliza Gray (2013-12-11). "Edith Windsor, The Unlikely Activist". Time. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  3. ^ Naomi Zeveloff. "Forward 50 (2013): Edith Windsor". The Forward. Retrieved 2014-10-23. 
  4. ^ "Windsor Amended Complaint". box.com. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Jill Hamburg Coplan (Fall 2011). "When a Woman Loves a Woman". nyu.edu. NYU Alumni Magazine (17). Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  6. ^ a b c Totenberg, Nina (21 March 2013). "Meet The 83-Year-Old Taking On The U.S. Over Same-Sex Marriage". All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  7. ^ Graham, Kristen A. (April 28, 2014). "At Temple, an alumna once closeted gets a hero's welcome back". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  8. ^ Peter Applebome (2012-12-10). "Reveling in Her Supreme Court Moment". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ a b c d Gabbatt, Adam (26 June 2013). "Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer: 'A love affair that just kept on and on and on'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  10. ^ a b c d Stanberry, Charlyn (March 30, 2013). "Who is Edith Windsor? How One Woman Plans to Change the Face of DOMA". politic365.com. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  11. ^ a b c d e "Edith "Edie" Windsor". The Reconstructionists. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  12. ^ Ring, Trudy. "DOMA Plaintiff Edie Windsor Remarries". Advocate.com. Retrieved 2016-10-01. 
  13. ^ Bernstein, Jacob (September 30, 2016). "The Remarriage of Edie Windsor, Gay Marriage Pioneer". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-10-01. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g "Edie Windsor Profile". ediewindsor.com. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  15. ^ Schwartz, John (November 8, 2010). "Gay Couple to Sue over U.S. Marriage Law". The New York Times. Retrieved July 16, 2012. 
  16. ^ Johnson, Chris (November 9, 2010). "Two New Lawsuits Target DOMA". Washington Blade. Retrieved July 16, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Complaint: United States v. Windsor" (PDF). aclu.org. p. 21. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  18. ^ Baynes, Terry (October 18, 2012). "Appeals court rules against Defense of Marriage Act". Reuters. Retrieved October 18, 2012. 
  19. ^ United States v. Windsor, F.3d 169 (2d Cir. 2012).
  20. ^ Schwartz, John (October 18, 2012). "U.S. Marriage Act Is Unfair to Gays, Court Panel Says". The New York Times. Retrieved December 13, 2012. 
  21. ^ United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, 570 U.S. ___ (June 26, 2013). Retrieved June 26, 2013.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y "Awards". ediewindsor.com. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  23. ^ Verena Dobnik (June 30, 2013). "Grand Marshall Edith Windsor leads jubilant crowd at NYC pride". LGBTQ Nation. Associated Press. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  24. ^ Rector, Kevin (May 22, 2014). "DOMA plaintiff, attorney receive honorary degrees, applause at Hopkins commencement". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2015-06-26. 
  25. ^ "Canada AM: Windsor's epic win | CTV News". Canadaam.ctvnews.ca. 2014-09-09. Retrieved 2016-10-01. 
  26. ^ "2014 Logo Trailblazers — Edie Windsor's Extended Acceptance Speech". LOGOTV. June 26, 2014. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  27. ^ Malcolm Lazin (August 20, 2015). "Op-ed: Here Are the 31 Icons of 2015's Gay History Month". Advocate.com. Retrieved 2015-08-21. 

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