Divisive figure

Conservative icon and ERA opponent Phyllis Schlafly dies at 92

Phyllis Schlafly, the Eagle Forum founder and conservative icon, at home in Ladue, Montana, March 20, 2006. (Stephanie S. Cordle/The New York Times)

Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative leader who was beloved by Republicans and despised by the women’s rights movement, passed away Monday at the age of 92.

Born in St. Louis in 1924, Schlafly became a fiery and influential force in American politics.  She ran for Congress in the 1950s, and though she lost the vote, she began to emerge as a powerful voice against communism. In 1958, Schlafly and her husband — John Fred Schlafly Jr. — founded the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, which sought to educate Catholics about the dangers of communism. Schlafly also hosted “America Wake Up,” a popular radio program on national security.

In 1964, Schlafly self-published a book titled A Choice Not an Echo, in which she claimed that presidential nominations were rigged by “secret kingmakers.” The book was, in part, written to promote the 1964 presidential campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater, who had accrued a large following of grassroots conservatives. Despite its sensationalist theories, A Choice Not an Echo sold some 3.5 million copies.

Phyllis Schlafly, the Eagle Forum founder and conservative icon, at a Republican Party platform hearing in 1976. (George Tames/The New York Times)

Phyllis Schlafly, the Eagle Forum founder and conservative icon, at a Republican Party platform hearing in 1976. (George Tames/The New York Times)

Schlafly’s tussle with the Equal Rights movement is perhaps the thorniest chapter of her legacy. In the 1970s, she vociferously opposed the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.), which sought to eradicate gender-based distinctions in federal and state law. “I simply didn’t believe we needed a constitutional amendment to protect women’s rights,” Schlafly said in a 2006 Times interview. “I knew of only one law that was discriminatory toward women, a law in North Dakota stipulating that a wife had to have her husband’s permission to make wine.”

Worried that the new amendment would lift restrictions on abortion and dismantle legislation meant to protect women — legislation that guaranteed alimony, for example — Schlafly founded an anti-equal-rights organization called Stop ERA (which has since morphed into the Eagle Forum, a “pro-family” entity). In a large part due to Schlafly and her army of volunteer women, the amendment was abandoned in the late 1970s.

A self-described housewife, Schlafly trumpeted traditional homemaking roles for women. And yet, in spite of her opposition to so many key principles of the women’s liberation movement, Schlafly led a long and energetic career. In 1975, when she was already a wife and a mother, Schlafly announced that she was going to attend law school. Though her husband initially opposed the decision, he soon changed his mind and Schlafly attended Washington University in St. Louis. She passed the Illinois bar in 1978.

In March of this year, Schlafly endorsed Donald Trump for president. “We’ve been following the losers for so long — now we’ve got a guy who’s going to lead us to victory,” Schlafly said of Trump in March at an Eagle Forum event in Illinois.

Trump has tweeted his condolences for a woman some referred to as “first lady of anti-feminism.”

Schlafly is survived by six children, 16 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Read the full story at The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.

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