The conservative movement has lost an early organizer and leader with the passing of 92-year-old Phyllis Schlafly, the Founder of Eagle Forum, author and mother of six children. Regardless of your politics, Schlafly’s story is worth knowing. At a time when many Americans feel powerless with the direction of the nation, her life shows the difference one person can make.
Schlafly began her public leadership fighting Communism in the 1950s. That ideological war sometimes seems like a long time ago, but it was real for Schlafly. She was never afraid to take on a big fight
She self-published the first of her 27 books, A Choice Not An Echo, in 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater securing the Republican Party’s nomination. She steadfastly engaged in Republican platform and nomination battles until her death.
Schlafly is most well-known (and resented by feminists) for her work to stop the Equal Rights Amendment, a constitutional amendment that proponents argued would ensure equal rights for men and women under the law. Schlafly had a different opinion and skillfully launched her “STOP ERA” movement—“STOP” stood for, “Stop Taking Our Privileges.” Schlafly argued that women would be left worse off with the ERA for a variety of reasons, from giving more power to the federal government to eliminating legal structures that protected many women.
The ERA had broad support, having passed Congress and been ratified by 30 states, by the time Schlafly decided to wage a campaign against it. The ERA even had the support of First Ladies from both sides of the political aisle, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter, and movie stars.
Schlafly successfully galvanized women nationwide to join her grassroots movement. She did it in her politically savvy way—for example, encouraging stay-at-home moms to take homemade bread to state legislators and directly engaging with feminists.
Throughout her life, she seemed to have a special ability to infuriate feminists and she took pleasure in it. She used to enjoy beginning her remarks by thanking her husband for letting her come because, “I always like to say that, because it makes the libs so mad.”
Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique and a founder of the National Organization for Women, said during a debate with Schlafly, “I’d like to burn you at the stake. I consider you a traitor to your sex. I consider you an Aunt Tom.”
To her opponents, challenging the feminist party line meant that Schlafly didn’t count as a woman. Mentioning Schlafly’s name to this day draws a strong reaction from feminists and those on the Left.
Here are three tweets less than 24 hours after the announcement of her death:
Upon learning of her death, Ella Dawson from Femsplain tweeted, “Am I… am I allowed to be happy? Is that okay?”
Glenn Thrush, Chief Political Correspondent at POLITICO, tweeted: “RIP, Phyllis Schlafly. No woman ever worked so tirelessly, ventured so far on behalf of the belief that other women should do none of that.”
And @Spectralfeminst tweeted, “Phyllis Schlafly died today. I’m celebrating! Holding a party of one <3#feminismwins”
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The ERA was never ratified. Karen DeCrow, president of NOW in the mid-1970s said, “Would the ERA have passed without Phyllis? That’s the $64,000 question.” Schlafly used to like to joke that as soon as she died, the feminists would try to ratify it again.
Feminist writer Rebecca Traister has already tweeted, “So … can we ratify it now?”
Knowing that a mom from the Midwest could lead a national movement to stop a constitutional amendment teaches that everyone can make a difference in our political system, as dysfunctional as it may be at times.
Schlafly also taught the next generations of conservative women how to take on modern feminists with poise, fearlessness and a sense of humor.