Margaret Heckler, named Wednesday to be secretary of Health and Human Services, was known in Congress for her stubborn, scrappy and often futile fights for women's rights.
The ranking woman in Congress until her defeat last November, she was in the vanguard of support for the Equal Rights Amendment when it first passed the House in 1972. It was Mrs. Heckler who persuaded Gerald Ford and his wife Betty to lobby for the amendment in 1977.
'She's been in the back rooms slugging it out for years,' said Pam Curtis, a Republican activist.
But she has never had wholehearted support from women's groups because of her opposition to abortion.
It was for that reason the National Organization for Women endorsed Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, against her last November in a newly redrawn district in Massachusetts that was heavily Democratic and substantially Catholic.
'It is certainly not an advantage for women to have Margaret Heckler in this position,' said Judy Goldsmith, NOW's national president. 'The administration is posturing. I'm afraid this still falls into the category of window-dressing.'
Besides the anti-abortion controversy, Mrs. Heckler, 51, was criticized for being so staunch a supporter of the president. Frank frequently identified himself as the candidate 'who did not kiss President Reagan on the night of the State of the Union address.'
Their race was considered a referendum on Reaganomics and Frank won handily.
Mrs. Heckler is believed to have helped pressure Reagan into a commitment to name a woman to the Supreme Court. She insisted on pressing the point with him during a meeting of women activists at the 1980 GOP convention even though her colleagues thought it was a wasted effort.
Boosters and detractors both mention her persistence.
The chairman of one of her committees in Congress used to say, 'You might as well give Peggy Heckler what she wants, she'll get it anyway.'
A red-haired woman with freckles, she does not like to be called Peggy.
Before launching her political career, Mrs. Heckler practiced law for 10 years.
She received a bachelor's degree from Albertus Magnus College, New Haven, Conn., in 1953 and a law degree from the Boston College Law School in 1956.
Mrs. Heckler was born June 21, 1931, in Flushing, N.Y. She and her husband, John, have three children.
She was first elected to the House in 1966. A member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, she has made a specialty of the problems of veterans and the elderly.
In 1980 she received a 67 percent rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, voting against draft registration, cuts in Social Security, the MX missile and a cap on food stamps.
She favored stricter enforcement of fair housing laws, hospital cost controls, and creation of the Department of Education.
Her proposal to guarantee equal rights to women in applications for loans, mortgages and credit became law in 1967 as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. She also fought for federally subsidized day care centers for children of working women.
'She will raise the consciousness of the Cabinet,' predicted Cathy Wilson, head of the National Womens Political Caucus, which also has withheld its endorsement of Mrs. Heckler because of her anti-abortion stance.
'She's taken a bad rap for it all along,' said Ms. Curtis, the Republican activist. 'It has kept her from getting the full support of women. She's never stood up to yell and scream her opposition.
'But now she'll have to tackle the issue. It's a real hot seat in the Cabinet that she's got.'