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Phyllis Schlafly, a great Missourian

   

Phyllis Schlafly, the Missouri-born conservative lawyer, activist and author who led a movements against communism and the Equal Rights Amendment but considered politics a “hobby” died Monday in her home. She was 92.

In a statement, her family said she had cancer and was surrounded by family at her home in Ladue.

Those who knew her say she inspired her followers just as much by how she lead as the battles she thought.

“I think that she was easy to follow because people knew she was as dedicated to the fight as they were,” said Glyn Wright, a former director of Schlafly’s group, Eagle Forum. She described Schlafly as “the most kind, gracious woman I’ve ever seen in public life.” But she was “always firm and direct. She never apologized for a position when it came to policy. She knew what she believed and had no problems pushing that.”

Schlafly
Schlafly

She credited Schlafly with bringing on anyone who was willing to fight for the same issues that she was and would pitch in where they could. But she also wouldn’t compromise on the issues.

“She truly lived her calling in life,” Wright said. “And there was never a question about it. She knew what she was meant to do, what God had called her to do. And she did it.”

Nationally, Schlafly rose to prominence during the 1964 election with her self-published book “A Choice Not an Echo.”

The book sold more than 3 million copies. In it, she made the case for conservative U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater to win the Republican nomination for president over the more liberal northeastern Republicans, led by New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

That election was just the start of a nationally prominent role in politics for Schalfly. But she’d already been making her mark locally.

In 1952, Schlafly ran as the Republican nominee for Congress in Alton, Il., where she had moved with her husband. She also attended her first Republican National Convention that year and attended every following convention, including this year’s in Cleveland.

While Schlafly came to national attention during the 1964 election, she might have made her most significant mark in the 1970s with her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment.

Starting in 1972, she led a “pro-family” movement against the amendment, coming from behind to defeat it. By the time Schlafly joined the fight, it had already been ratified by 28 of the 38 states necessary for ratification.

Ultimately, an amendment that once looked like a sure thing only received the ratification of 35 states, five of which rescinded their support.

To fight the amendment, Schlafly formed a group called “Stop ERA” which consisted mostly of volunteers. But when the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment was over, the group didn’t end. Instead Schlafly turned it into Eagle Forum, whose mission is “to enable conservative and pro-family men and women to participate in the process of self-government and public policy making so that America will continue to be a land of individual liberty, respect for family integrity, public and private virtue, and private enterprise.”

The group became an organization the Schlafly envisioned embodying her movement, beyond her. It was populated of like-minded individuals from the group originally formed at the Schlafly kitchen table and it attracted more followers because of the issues it stood for and the leader at the top.

But Schlafly didn’t want the movement to be about her. The woman who drove herself to the airport insisted that the movement would live beyond herself.

She also became a leading commentator. She appeared in regular segments on CBS Morning News in the mid-70s and on CNN in the early 80s.

Later, she launched her own media brand. Starting in 1983, she created three-minute commentaries for radio stations, carried by more than 500 stations. In 1989 she began hosting a weekly radio talk show called “Eagle Forum Live” carried on more than 75 stations.

She’d already made herself available to regular followers, launching the Phyllis Schlafly Report, a monthly newsletter, in 1967. The newsletter might have been the most successful in bringing new followers into the movement.

Wright said that her grandmother gave her the Phyllis Schlafly Report so she could know the issues.

“People have said that to me over and over again, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been getting the Phyllis Schlafly Report for over 30 years, because that’s where I get the best information. I always know it’s factual, it’s accurate and it’s in an easily digestible form,’” Wright said.

Schlafly became the visible leader of the pro-family movement. She debated feminist activists like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem at women’s conferences and at colleges.

In all of these venues, Schlafly advocated for conservative positions. They included advocating for the role of a mother as homemaker. She was named 1992 Illinois Mother of the Year.

She was also an ardent opponent of communism. She opposed non-proliferation treaties with the Soviet Union. She also joined the John Birch Society, but left because she wanted to focus on the external threat of communism rather than internal communism.

More recently, Schlafly has been a vocal opponent of gay and transgender rights. Her last column on the Eagle Forum website was titled  “Setback for the Transgender Agenda.”

Supporters have highlighted her efforts defending the unborn, defending traditional marriage, defending American workers from unfair trade and immigration policies, defending individual inventors from losing their intellectual property to large corporations, defending women from being drafted into military combat, defending full-time homemakers, defending conservatives and grassroots activists from establishment kingmakers, defending children from politicized public education defending American taxpayers from out-of-control federal spending and defending against threats to American exceptionalism.

One notable effort included fighting against the inclusion of women in the military. One of her reasons for opposing the Equal Rights Amendments were fears that it could lead to women being forced to register for Selective Service.

“No country in history ever sent mothers of toddlers off to fight enemy soldiers until the United States did this in the Iraq war,” she wrote in a 2005 column.

That column touched on many of the issues on which Schlafly has commented over the years, including gender politics and feminism.

“Anyone with a child knows that children learn about the world through binary options: up or down, hot or cold, big or little, inside or outside, wet or dry, good or bad, boy or girl, man or woman,” she wrote. “But the radical feminists, who staff women’s studies departments at most colleges, have propagated the idea that we have to get rid of the ‘gender binary’ along with the expectation of distinct roles for men and women.”

Wright said knowing when and how to pick battles was one of the biggest lessons Schlafly imparted upon her.

“She was uncompromising yet reasonable in her political fights,” Wright said. “She was a brilliant strategist, and I’m thankful for the way that she taught me to think and to see policy and the battles we continue to face from decade to decade as conservatives.”

Even with her advancing age and battle with cancer, she remained active in conservative politics. She became one of the first conservatives to fully embrace Donald Trump, endorsing him over Ted Cruz, who many within her own group saw as more conservative. 

The day after her death, her book “The Conservative Case for Donald Trump” was released. She attended the 2016 Republican National Convention as a member of the Missouri delegation and a proud Trump supporter.

“We have been stuck with the losers chosen by the Republican establishment for so long, and it’s time for a change. Now we have a guy who is going to lead us to victory,” she said in her endorsement of Trump.

In all, she wrote or edited 27 books on a wide range of topics, from feminism to communism and even phonics.

In her home state, conservatives saddened by her death saluted her accomplishments.

“Phyllis Schlafly lived a courageous and important life,” said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. “She was never afraid of a fight but also knew when to celebrate what was possible and continue to work for more. She was a valued friend.”

“America has lost a national treasure and conservative icon. Phyllis Schlafly spent most of her life at the forefront of the grassroots conservative movement, championing family values and strong national security,” said John Hancock, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party. “Until her final days, she remained an aggressive and vocal advocate for her beliefs. Less than two months ago, I had the honor of celebrating her years of service to the Republican Party and the conservative movement on the floor of the Republican National Convention, which Phyllis has attended faithfully since the 1950s. Phyllis’ passion and effectiveness will certainly be missed, but her legacy will endure for generations to come.”

“The public arena is a rough and tumble environment but, for over six decades, Phyllis Schlafly was a constant presence in the most important public policy debates of our time,” said Republican Secretary of State candidate Jay Ashcroft. “Katie and I are deeply saddened to learn of her passing today. We will keep Phyllis’ family, friends and loved ones in our prayers.”

An ardent Catholic, Schlafly is survived by her six children, 16 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

 

FEATURED/GAGE SKIDMORE