Schlafly, Phyllis Stewart

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Schlafly, Phyllis Stewart

The demise of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) on June 30, 1982, can be attributed in large part to Phyllis Stewart Schlafly. During the 1970s, Schlafly was the United States' most visible opponent of the ERA, a proposed constitutional amendment that she predicted would undermine the traditional family and actually diminish the rights of U.S. women.

The ERA stated, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." After passing Congress, the amendment was sent to the 50 states on March 22, 1972, for ratification. To become law, the amendment needed to be passed by 38 states within seven years. By 1973, 30 states had already ratified the ERA. However, as momentum for Schlafly's anti-ERA campaign grew, the ratification process slowed. Only four states approved the ERA in 1974 and 1975, and it became unlikely that pro-ERA forces could persuade four more states to ratify it. In 1977, Indiana became the last state to ratify the amendment. Despite a congressional reprieve in July 1978 that extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982, the ERA failed.

Schlafly was born August 15, 1924, in St. Louis, to Odile Dodge Stewart and John Bruce Stewart. She excelled academically at her parochial school, Academy of the Sacred Heart. After graduating as class valedictorian in 1941, she enrolled at Maryville College of the Sacred Heart. As a junior, she transferred to Washington University, in St. Louis, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1944. After receiving a scholarship, Schlafly earned a master's degree in political science from Radcliffe College in 1945. In 1978, she returned to Washington University and earned a law degree.

For about a year after receiving her master's degree, Schlafly worked in Washington, D.C., as a researcher for several members of Congress. Returning to St. Louis in 1946, she became an aide and campaign worker for a Republican representative, and then worked as a librarian and researcher for a bank.

"Virtuous women are seldom accosted by unwelcome sexual propositions … obscene talk or profane language."
—Phyllis Schlafly

In 1949, she married Fred Schlafly, also a lawyer. After moving to Alton, Illinois, Schlafly and her husband became involved in anti-Communist activities. Schlafly was a researcher for Senator joseph r. mccarthy during the 1950s and helped to found the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, an organization opposed to Communism. Schlafly supported Republican barry m. goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964. Her first book, A Choice Not an Echo, was written in 1964 specifically for the Goldwater campaign. In 1964, Schlafly published The Gravediggers, a book accusing key figures in the administration of President lyndon b. johnson of deliberately undermining U.S. military strength and leaving the country vulnerable to Communist aggression. Schlafly is the author of several other books on political topics.

While raising six children, Schlafly kept her hand in community activities and Republican politics. Her interest in public policy and government affairs prompted her to run for Congress three times: once in 1952 as the GOP candidate from the Twenty-fourth District of Illinois; once in 1960 as a write-in candidate; and once in 1970 as the endorsed candidate of Chicago insurance mogul W. Clement Stone. All three campaigns were unsuccessful.

Schlafly had more luck in her successful 1964 bid to be elected the first vice president of the National Federation of Republican Women. Her victory came at a time when Goldwater Republicans dominated the party. Usually, the first vice president of the federation automatically advanced to president, but in 1967, Schlafly was opposed by a more moderate candidate who ultimately defeated her. In the wake of her loss, Schlafly formed a separatist group called The Eagles Are Flying. Bolstered by a core of conservative supporters, she began publishing the Phyllis Schlafly Report, a newsletter assessing current political issues and candidates. In a 1972 issue of the Report, Schlafly wrote the first of many articles criticizing the ERA. As her personal opposition to the amendment grew, Schlafly formed Stop ERA and the Eagle Forum, organizations supported by conservative U.S. citizens, fundamentalist religious groups, and factions of the John Birch Society.

Schlafly argued that ratification of the ERA would lead to compulsory military service for all mothers, unisex toilets in public places, automatic 50 percent financial responsibility for all wives, and homosexual marriages. In 1992, Schlafly's oldest son John Schlafly disclosed his homosexuality in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner. He stated that he supported his mother's conservative political views, but also that gays and lesbians have family values.

Since the defeat of the ERA, Schlafly has remained active with the Eagle Forum and other conservative causes, including the antiabortion movement. She has made more than 50 appearances before congressional and state legislative committees, where she has testified on such issues as national defense, foreign policy, and family concerns. Schlafly has continued to publish her monthly newsletter, The Phyllis Schlafly Report. She also continues as an author, speaker and commentator.

Further readings

Caroll, Peter N. 1985. Famous in America: The Passion to Succeed: Jane Fonda, George Wallace, Phyllis Schlafly, John Glenn. New York: Dutton.

Felsenthal, Carol. 1981. Sweetheart of the Silent Majority. New York: Doubleday.

Schlafly, Phyllis. 2003. Feminist Fantasies. Dallas: Spence.

Cross-references

Republican Party; Women's Rights.

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