Former U.S. Rep. Cardiss Collins, the first African-American woman to represent Illinois in Congress, died of natural causes at age 81 on Saturday, Feb. 2, in Washington, D.C., according to a statement from Rep. Danny Davis, who replaced Collins as representative for the 7th Congressional District when she retired in 1997.
Collins represented the district, which during her tenure covered a swath of Chicago including the West Side and near western suburbs, for nearly 25 years. She focused on women's health and welfare issues, fighting for universal health insurance, gender equality in college athletics and Medicare coverage of mammograms.
"Cardiss Collins was a serious advocate for women and working people," Davis said.
Collins led the Congressional Black Caucus from 1979 to 1981, serving as its second female chair. As the fourth black woman in the House, Collins was assertive about the need for African-American progress.
“We will no longer wait for political power to be shared with us. We will take it," Collins once said at a fundraiser.
Collins originally was elected in a special election held after her husband, U.S. Rep. George Collins, died in a plane crash at Midway Airport in 1972.