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For most of her life, Edith Windsor was a private citizen who, like most Americans, had a name that — while meaningful to those in her circle of friends and family — was largely unknown to the wider world. But a late-in-life decision ensured that the LGBTQ activist, who died on Tuesday at 88, as her wife Judith Kasen-Windsor confirmed, would find her name a solid part of American history.

After all, it’s her name in the 2013 Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor, which overturned key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“America’s long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what’s right,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement about Windsor’s death. “Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America.”

The Windsor decision said that, in 13 states and the District of Columbia, which recognized same-sex marriage, such couples were entitled to the same federal benefits offered to their heterosexual counterparts. (On the wider question of whether marriage equality is a constitutional right, the Supreme Court ruled that it is in 2015, and that same-sex marriages must be recognized in all states.)

In 2013, in the wake of that decision, TIME named her a finalist for Person of the Year, describing her as “the matriarch of the gay-rights movement.” Here’s how the magazine described her rise to prominence, which started when her first wife Thea Spyer died in 2009:

As part of the feature, Windsor shared with TIME photo albums of her first marriage in her Greenwich Village apartment.

“I think the truth is that if you really care about the quality of somebody’s life as much as you care about the quality of your own,” she said, “you have it made.”

Read the full profile of Windsor in TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year issue: Edith Windsor, the Unlikely Activist

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at

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