Phyllis Schlafly died on September 5, 2016 at the age of 92. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1924.
From a New York Times book review written in 2006 Judith Warner commented:
“In many ways, Phyllis Schlalfy, née Stewart, would seem an unlikely candidate for a life spent on the antifeminist front lines. She was raised in St. Louis by a working mother who kept her family afloat after her husband lost his job in the Great Depression. She was encouraged to excel academically by both her parents, who, Critchlow writes, believed “their daughters should not be any less ambitious or educated than boys.”
Schlafly received a four-year scholarship to a local Roman Catholic college, but left after a year because it wasn’t sufficiently challenging. Instead, she decided to pay her own way through Washington University by taking on a full-time job firing rifles and machine guns to test ammunition at the St. Louis Ordnance Plant. She worked night shifts — 4 p.m. to midnight or midnight to 8 a.m. — and then attended morning classes. She graduated early, made Phi Beta Kappa and called the ordeal “the most wonderful two years of my life, a beautiful experience.”
Schlafly got a master’s degree from Radcliffe, established herself professionally and achieved economic self-sufficiency, then married a St. Louis man with whom she bonded intellectually. (They took an extra suitcase of books along for the honeymoon.) Comfortably settled in a mansion in Fairmount, Ill., she had six children and rose to national prominence, first as an ardent anti-Communist, then as an antifeminist crusader.”
Born in 1924 Schlafly was born shortly after women were granted the right to vote, her childhood then was during the Great Depression, then her young adulthood was when World War II was going on. In terms of hardship apparently her father lost his job during the Depression with her mother then having to work to sustain the family. Also apparently her parents were feminist minded enough to encourage their daughters to be as ambitious as boys. For some context in the United States among white married women 9.8% were in the workforce in 1930, 12.5% were in the workforce in 1940, 20.7% were in the workforce in 1950, and 29.8% were in the workforce in 1960. So it was not normal for a white married woman to be working even during the Great Depression. Married women joined the workforce by and large for cultural reasons, not due to economic necessity.
Schlafly was clearly very ambitious in a masculine sense right from the beginning. In 1944 (at age 20) she got her Bachelor’s Degree from Washington University in St. Louis, in 1945 she received her Master’s Degree in Political Science from Radcliffe College, also in 1945 she started her volunteer activism for the Republican Party. In 1946 she became a researcher for the American Enterprise Institute. In 1949 she then got married to John Schlafly, a lawyer from a wealthy family. After marrying Phyllis and John Schlafly then moved to Alton, Illinois. In 1952 she ran for Congress in the 24th congressional district of Illinois and lost. In 1960 Phyllis Schlafly became the President of the Illinois Federation of Republican Women. Then in 1964 Schlafly gained national notoriety with her book “A Choice Not an Echo” advocating for Barry Goldwater.
So was Phyllis Schlafly a feminist or an anti-feminist? Maybe a bit of both? Her behavior was clearly feminist but her beliefs and what she advocated for were anti-feminist, at least anti-feminist compared to the opposition she found herself fighting against. She was a conservative and an anti-communist initially, also a Roman Catholic. Schlafly did not focus on feminism as a foe until the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress in 1972. Then she set up the STOP ERA committee in September 1972 to prevent the Equal Rights Amendment from being adopted.
There were many conservative activist Republican women before the ERA emerged as a threat to rally against, it was not just Phyllis Schlafly. As Kristina Marie Graves relates in her thesis “Stop Taking Our Privileges! The Anti-ERA Movement in Georgia, 1978-1982”, page 33:
“This political culture [the grassroots conservative movement] led to the rise of a conservative movement and the nomination of Barry Goldwater for presidential candidacy at the 1964 Republican Convention. Though Goldwater was soundly defeated by Lyndon Johnson, the network of conservative voters and organizations he inspired would contribute to the election of Ronald Reagan, a staunch California conservative, as president in 1980.
It is these roots that conservative women, such as Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the STOP ERA Committee, used to create a national grassroots campaign against the ratification of the ERA. According to McGirr, women were “very much a part of the constituency of the Right” and “overrepresented among the rank and file of the movement.” McGirr goes on to state that, in the early 1960s, women were much more active in grassroots conservatism than the men in their lives and were often responsible for “becoming involved and then bringing their husbands into the cause.” However, while some anti-feminists were not previously involved in politics before their activism in the anti-ERA campaign, a number of women involved in the anti-ERA movement had political experience on the local and state level. This gave them a significant advantage when it came time to ratify the ERA from state to state. In contrast, the feminist movement was more experienced with national politics and did not have a good grasp of the complexity of local grassroots politics.”
In the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s it was mostly feminist women arguing against anti-feminist women in the public square. Men’s voices or opinions were not welcomed in the debate, the ERA being a “woman’s issue” so to speak. A woman such as Phyllis Schlafly had to be the leader of the anti-ERA fight as opposition against the ERA would only be “legitimate” coming from women on behalf of women. The main argument against the ERA was that it would take protections and privileges away from women thereby harming women; women’s interests being the primary concern for both the pro-ERA and the anti-ERA women.
The overall cultural mindset in the 1970s was already feminist or female supremacist; that it was men’s job to do what women want and to make women happy so that if women wanted the ERA then women were entitled to their so called “Equal Rights Amendment.” The only politically viable counter to the momentum that the ERA had at the beginning would be a women’s movement against the ERA attacking the ERA as being anti-woman; against women’s privileges and protections. This being what Phyllis Schlafly’s STOP ERA (Stop Taking Our Privileges) movement was.
Thankfully the battle against the ERA succeeded so the feminist invented notion of “equal rights” is not contaminating the Constitution at least. This is the great accomplishment of Phyllis Schlafly’s life.
Women like Phyllis Schlafly slowed down the momentum of feminism but they did not stop the progression of feminism. The period from 1960 to 1995 was the period of the most rapid family breakdown; the defeat of the ERA basically coming in 1977 when the last state to ratify the amendment ratified the amendment. It was not until the Republican Revolution of 1994 that family breakdown slowed down.
So what about this phenomenon of the political activist highly ambitious anti-feminist woman? Most definitely America needed Phyllis Schlafly and her army of anti-ERA activist women to stop the ERA from being enacted because men being the force against the ERA would have never been tolerated. Still women being the ones to tell men how best to treat women is the very essence of female supremacy and feminism. It is like female supremacy was simply a given or automatically assumed in the ERA debate, the only question was whether female supremacy is best served in a traditional way as Phyllis Schlafly argued or whether female supremacy is best served in a feminist way as the feminists argued.
Most definitely the ERA is a bad idea because certainly the law should discriminate between men and women but gender based discrimination is good in its own right, not because women approve of certain forms of gender discrimination that benefit women. God or the natural order of things is the authority regarding whether certain forms of gender discrimination are good or not, not the woman herself. Gender discrimination is intrinsically good as an objective truth or an objective reality.
The issue of religion is interesting regarding the battle over the ERA. Gregory L. Schneider states in his article “Conservative’s Founding Mother”:
“Both STOP-ERA and the National Organization for Women (NOW) had similar memberships. The majority of both organizations consisted of college graduates, and both groups had women of similar income levels. Feminists tended to be younger, and there was a prevalence of single and divorced women in NOW. But the fundamental distinction between the two organizations was religious. “A remarkable 98 percent of anti-ERA supporters,” Critchlow writes, “claimed church membership, while only 31 to 48 percent of pro-ERA supporters did.” It is not wrong to claim that STOP-ERA was the backbone of today’s social conservative politics.”
The feminist activists and the anti-feminist activists had similar education levels and income levels; the feminists however were more likely to be divorced or single, more likely to be younger (meaning born later, born at a later stage of feminist advancement and family breakdown), and most strikingly were much more likely to be non-religious, disconnected from an idea of an objective reality governed by God that they are bound to obey.
Towards the end of her life Phyllis Schlafly spoke out against VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) sounding a lot like an MRA (Men’s Rights Activist) in her criticisms of VAWA. She also endorsed Donald Trump for president on March 11, 2016.
It is quite a remarkable life that she led. America definitely needed her, a woman to fight against feminism, taking on the masculine duty to uphold the family that men shamefully abandoned forcing women to do the fighting for them in their place.
Phyllis Schlafly – Wikipedia entry
Marriage is Masculinity and Coverture
A Choice Not an Echo – Page 2 and Page 117
Stop Taking Our Privileges! The Anti-ERA Movement in Georgia, 1978-1982 – Page 33 and Page 49
Stop Taking Our Privileges – Google Books Search
Equal Rights Amendment – Wikipedia entry
Phyllis Schlafly endorses Trump in St. Louis