Conservative Activist Phyllis Schlafly Dies At 92

Sep 6, 2016
Originally published on September 6, 2016 7:47 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Phyllis Schlafly was the woman who led the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment. It made her an important figure in the conservative movement. Schlafly died yesterday at the age of 92. NPR's Brian Naylor brings us this remembrance.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Phyllis Schlafly was known among conservatives for her activism in the 1950s anti-communist movement and in the '60s for her book "A Choice Not An Echo" in support of Barry Goldwater. But it was her campaign in the 1970s against the Equal Rights Amendment, the ERA, that brought national attention to the woman dubbed the first lady of the conservative movement.

The ERA was ratified by 35 states, but Schlafly helped organize the grassroots opposition that stalled the amendment three states shy of being added to the Constitution. Here she is in 1973.

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PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: Since the women are the ones who bear the babies and there's nothing we can do about that, our laws and customs then make it the financial obligation of the husband to provide the support. It is his obligation and his sole obligation. And this is exactly and precisely what we will lose if the Equal Rights Amendment is passed.

NAYLOR: Schlafly was the wife of a wealthy St. Louis attorney. She got her own law degree in 1978. She ran for Congress three times, losing on each occasion. In a 2011 interview with NPR's Michel Martin, Schlafly said her political activism was not a career.

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SCHLAFLY: Well, politics was my hobby, and I really spent 25 years as a full-time homemaker. I tell the feminists the only person's permission I had to get was my husband's.

NAYLOR: Schlafly frequently provoked feminists and progressives. She said that sexual harassment on the job was, quote, "not a problem for virtuous women" and that women fighting for equal pay were envious of men. Sex education, she said, was a principle cause of teenage pregnancy. Feminists viewed her with hostility. Betty Friedan once said Schlafly should be burned at the stake.

Schlafly was a prolific writer, author of some two dozen books and thousands of articles along with a monthly newsletter. Her Stop the ERA group became the Eagle Forum. She was a role model for women like Penny Young Nance of Concerned Women for America.

PENNY YOUNG NANCE: She was groundbreaking in her own way, in a way I think feminists didn't like but was important for conservative women. She gave us a voice. I stand today on her shoulders in that I have a national platform to speak about the life issue and conservative issues.

NANCE: In that 2011 interview with NPR, Schlafly said she advised women not to be taken in by feminism.

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SCHLAFLY: American women are so fortunate. When I got married, all I wanted in the world was a dryer so I didn't have to hang up my diapers. And now women have paper diapers and all sorts of conveniences in the home. And it is the man and the technology that has made the home such a pleasant place for women to be.

NAYLOR: Schlafly endorsed Donald Trump for president and remained an active and provocative voice. Here she is in a radio commentary earlier this year, lamenting the number of foreign-born Major League Baseball players.

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SCHLAFLY: It's time to cut off visas for foreign baseball players and return our national pastime to Americans.

NAYLOR: Schlafly is survived by her six children, along with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.