Phyllis Schlafly, one of the most iconic and recognizable leaders in America’s conservative movement for many decades, has died.
Schlafly founded the Eagle Forum in 1972, a pro-family conservative group focusing heavily on social issues — it has about 80,000 members and, as of this week, Schlafly was still president.
“Phyllis Schlafly spent an astounding 70 years in public service of her fellow Americans,” said the Eagle Forum in a statement. “Her focus from her earliest days until her final ones was protecting the family, which she understood as the building block of life. She recognized America as the greatest political embodiment of those values. From military superiority and defense to immigration and trade; from unborn life to the nuclear family and parenthood, Phyllis Schlafly was a courageous and articulate voice for common sense and traditional values.”
“America has lost a great stateswoman, and we at Eagle Forum and among the conservative movement have lost a beloved friend and mentor, who taught and inspired so many to fight the good fight in defense of American values,” said Eunie Smith, Eagle Forum’s First Vice President in a statement. “I have personally lost a dear friend of over forty years.”
Schlafly was born Aug. 15, 1924, and grew up in Depression-era St. Louis. Her parents were Republican but not politically involved.
Her own activism was born partly out of convenience. With the country involved in World War II during her college years, Schlafly worked the graveyard shift at the St. Louis Ordnance Plant. Her job included testing ammunition by firing machine guns. She would get off work at 8 a.m., attend morning classes, then sleep in the middle of the day before doing it all over again.
The schedule limited her options for a major. “In order to pick classes to fit my schedule I picked political science,” Schlafly recalled in the 2007 interview.
She graduated from Washington University in 1944, when she was 19. Her first taste of real politics came at age 22, when she guided the 1946 campaign of Republican congressional candidate Claude Bakewell, helping him to a major upset win.
In 1952, with her young family living in nearby Alton, Illinois, Schlafly’s husband, attorney John Schlafly Jr., was approached about running for Congress. He declined, but she ran and narrowly lost in a predominantly Democratic district. She also ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1970.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Washington University in 1944 — her masters from Radcliffe College in 1945 — and a J.D. from Washington University in 1978. She also received an honorary degree from Washington University in 2008.
She was known nationwide and in many political circles as the reason the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated in the 1970s and, subsequently, into the 1980s. As momentum grew in the 1970s for the amendment, Schlafly became its most outspoken critic and was vilified by its supporters. She had a pie smashed into her face and pig’s blood thrown on her, and feminist Betty Friedan once told Schlafly: “I’d like to burn you at the stake.” She was chastised in a 1970s “Doonesbury” a framed copy of which hung on her office wall.
“What I am defending is the real rights of women,” Schlafly said at the time. “A woman should have the right to be in the home as a wife and mother.”
Thirty-five states ratified the amendment, three short of the necessary 38. Schlafly said amendment supporters couldn’t prove it was needed.
“They were never able to show women would get any benefit out of it,” she told the Associated Press in 2007. “It (the U.S. Constitution) is already sex-neutral. Women already have all the rights that men have.”
Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock told KMOX Schlafly was a trailblazer.
“This was an organization built on grassroots volunteers,” Hancock said. “They made a true difference in this country.”
Schlafly’s organization has been split this presidential election — Schlafly supported Donald Trump, though many board members disagreed. She maintained her leadership of the organization.
She also fought nephew, Tom Schlafly, over the naming rights to his brewery in St. Louis. Schlafly contended her name juxtaposed with beer and libations would damage the conservative brand’s reputation. A judge disagreed.
Schlafly was 92. She died in her Ladue home due to complications from cancer, she was surrounded by family.