Cardiss Collins, first black congresswoman of Illinois, dies

Collins, a crusader for women's issues, played an important role in getting Medicare coverage for post-mastectomy breast prosthesis. She died Saturday at age 81.

Former U.S. Rep. Cardiss Collins, the first African-American woman to represent Illinois in Congress, died Feb. 2, in Washington. She was 81.

Known as a champion for women and minorities, Collins represented the 7th Congressional District from 1973 to 1997, during which time it included Chicago's West Side and near western suburbs.

A family friend, Mel Blackwell, said Collins died of complications from pneumonia at a hospital in Alexandria, Va., the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Collins, who previously worked as an accountant, was elected to Congress in June 5, 1973 during a special election to replace her husband, George, who died in a 1972 plane crash along with 44 other passengers.

Collins played an important role in getting Medicare coverage for post-mastectomy breast prosthesis, which had previously been considered cosmetic. Collins argued that "remodeling the chest of a cancer victim was not merely a cosmetic procedure, but comparable to an artificial limb which serves a psychological, protective and functional purpose," according to an article published about her in Ebony magazine in 1977.

Her work in Congress focused on establishing universal  health insurance, gender equity in college sports and reforming federal child care facilities.

Many people, including current members of Congress, paid tribute to Collins on social media, describing her as a "trailblazer" and an Illinois "legend."

Congressman Bobby L. Rush, who serves Illinois' 1st District, tweeted: "Today, remember the life and legacy of a great woman and Illinois Representative former Congresswoman Cardiss Collins who passed last week."

Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) described Collins as a "champion for women and minorities."

"RIP Former Representative Cardiss Collins ... She made a difference," Tweeted CNN contributor Donna Brazile.

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