How Phyllis Schlafly Worked to Defeat the Equal Rights Amendment

How Phyllis Schlafly Worked to Defeat the Equal Rights Amendment


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In 1972, it seemed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment was all but a sure thing.

First introduced to Congress in 1923 by suffragist Alice Paul, the proposed 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stated "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex," had passed with both bipartisan and public support and was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

But the ERA included a seven-year ratification time limit clause (which Congress extended to 1982), and although 35 of 38 state legislatures needed for a three-quarters majority had voted to ratify the amendment, its proponents hadn’t counted on a conservative grassroots movement led by activist and lawyer Phyllis Schlafly that would ultimately lead to the ERA’s defeat, falling three states shorts.

"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."

ERA: Open to Interpretation

Don Critchlow, author of Phyllis Schlafly and the Grassroots Right and Future Right, and the Katzin Family Professor at Arizona State University, says one issue was the amendment was loose in its wording.

“That meant it was going to have to be interpreted by the courts and she—and her large number of followers—were concerned that the courts would interpret it as abortion on demand, same-sex marriage and women in the draft.” he says. “Furthermore, she felt that much of the legislation protecting women in pay and gender discrimination had already been enacted.”

The ERA got as far as it did, due to the work of second-wave feminists who had lobbied for years for its passage. Those who fought for the amendment included prominent figures such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Jane Fonda. Brandy Faulkner, a visiting assistant professor at Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, says the feminist momentum influenced not only Congress, but also the U.S. Supreme Court. Faulkner points out that Eisenstadt v. Baird, which established the right of unmarried people to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples, passed in 1971—just a year after Congress passed the ERA.

Schlafly’s strategy to defeat the ERA was to convince women that equality between men and women was undesirable.

“She consistently painted worst-case scenarios which, when juxtaposed with the lives of average white women at that time, led many of them to believe that inequality wasn't so bad after all," Faulkner says. “She was a biological determinist who thought that the physiological differences between men and women should be the primary determiner of their roles. She advocated for what she thought was a privileged position for women in society."

One example Schlafly offered was that women did not have to register for the draft—a fact that Schlafly argued was a female privilege. Schlafly also applauded that fact that for most social welfare programs, women were assumed to be dependents of their husbands, and that entitled them to some government services and benefits.

Schlafly's conservative values led her to staunchly oppose feminism in all of its forms, Faulkner says, and the ERA was certainly part of the feminist agenda.

“She feared that greater sex equality would lead to a moral decline in society by changing the roles that women had traditionally held,” she says.

Shlafly's Effective Advocacy

Critchlow, author of In Defense of Populism (to be released in the fall of 2020), says Schlafly, who died at age 92 in 2016, built up her following through her work with the National Federation of Republican Women, which became the basis for Stop ERA.

“She was articulate, quite intelligent and extremely well organized and she was deadly on the debate stage,” he says.

Schlafly’s strategy was to organize grassroots women in the multiple states to put pressure on the state legislatures to stop or rescind ERA passage.

“I’m absolutely convinced that it would have passed without her involvement,” he says. “She was able to single-handedly organize the Stop ERA movement.”

As the Stop ERA movement gained momentum, Critchlow adds, it was able to reach new constituencies, particularly in the Southern battleground states.

“The women involved in southern state organizations were able to tap into the churches, especially the evangelical churches,” he says. “Schlafly was Catholic, but she was able to reach out not only to Protestants, but also to Mormons, as well as some traditional Jews, too.”

By the late 1970s, Schlafly had risen in prominence for pushing back against the feminist movement. Her book, The Power of the Positive Woman, helped cement her following. But public opinion of Schlafly remained divided.

"Women who were opposed to her absolutely despised her," Critchlow says.

Following the ERA’s defeat, Schlafly and Stop ERA threw a party, according to a 1982 report in the Washington Post.

“Ronald Reagan sent a congratulatory telegram," according to the Post, "The band played ‘Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead.’ Conservative Digest editor John Lofton, who wore dark glasses and a striped party hat, put it this way: ‘We're here to celebrate a death, to dance on a grave.’”


The Surprising Secret to Phyllis Schlafly’s Success

H aving spent my career writing biographies, I&rsquove learned that nothing is more important in the creation of the adults I write about than their childhoods and their relationships with parents. Of the many people I&rsquove profiled, none came close to having a childhood as healthy, happy and encouraging as the anti-Equal Rights Amendment crusader Phyllis Schlafly, who died Monday at age 92. Those who battled Schlafly and lost, repeatedly, could only have wished for a far different upbringing.

ERA had been on an easy, bipartisan path to ratification in 1972 when Schlafly, then 48, decided to defeat it. After studying it, she said, she realized that it would pass power from the states to Washington and that the country would face consequences including same-sex marriage, unisex bathrooms and women forced into the draft and combat roles.

It&rsquos no exaggeration to argue that, in a sense, she singlehandedly stopped ERA&mdashshe and her legions of worshipful women, who, at her command, would dash to Springfield or Tallahassee to lobby legislators, often equipped with arsenals of home-baked bread and pies.

Born in 1924 in St. Louis, Schlafly was the older of two daughters. Her father, whom she hugely admired, never expressed the slightest regret about not having a son.

Her parents had distinguished lineage (three of her grandparents were descendants of men who had fought in the American Revolution), but they struggled financially. Her father, Bruce, a heavy equipment sales engineer for Westinghouse, a loyal employee of 25 years, lost his job during the Depression. He was let go without a pension and was never able to reestablish the family&rsquos finances.

Her mother, Odile, nicknamed Dadie, had two degrees from Washington University in St. Louis, the second in library science, and eventually worked two jobs. &ldquoWe had to eat,&rdquo Schlafly later explained. Her mother sold yard goods and draperies at the Famous Barr department store. Next, she took a $150-a-month job as the librarian at the St. Louis Art Museum. On her day off she cataloged and maintained the library at the private Sacred Heart school Schlafly attended, in lieu of paying tuition.

There was no money for frivolity. Despite working seven days a week, Dadie, in her spare time, wrote a book on the history of St. Louis. She sewed her daughters&rsquo clothes Phyllis often said that she didn&rsquot own a store-made dress until she turned 18.

When he wasn&rsquot looking for a job, Bruce worked on inventions&mdashfor 17 years on a design for a rotary engine that contained only three moving parts. He received a patent for it in 1944 but was not able to sell it. Mazda later built cars with a similar engine, but Bruce never received a dime for his invention.

His work made an impression on his daughter. Schlafly used to infuriate ERA backers by celebrating inventors&mdashthe ones she mentioned were always male&mdashwho were &ldquothe real liberators of women in America&rdquo because they &ldquolifted the drudgery of housekeeping from women&rsquos shoulders.&rdquo Thomas Edison was a favorite, for bringing electricity to the home and giving &ldquoevery American woman&hellip the equivalent… of a half&ndashdozen household servants.&rdquo

Influenced by her mother&rsquos capacity for work, Schlafly studied compulsively, delving deeply into assignments so she&rsquod be prepared for any question. She had few of what might be considered teen-girl interests.

Asked as an adult if she had any hobbies, she named &ldquonuclear strategy&rdquo and Republican National Conventions. A former President of the National Organization for Women told me that while awaiting an event at a school at which she and Schlafly were hired to debate, she saw the packed auditorium and said to her opponent that she felt like Mick Jagger. &ldquoWho&rsquos Mick Jagger?&rdquo Schlafly asked.

At home growing up, dinner table conversation was about literature&mdashBruce loved to read Shakespeare&mdashand politics. He saw politics in black and white, and despite being fired with no pension, saw absolutely nothing good about President Franklin D. Roosevelet and his New Deal. In the scrapbook Schlafly kept during high school, she pinned &ldquoNo third term&rdquo buttons and &ldquoI don&rsquot want Eleanor either.&rdquo

She graduated valedictorian of her class at age 16 in 1941, eventually paying her way through Washington University by working a 48-hour-a-week night job as a gunner in an ordnance plant firing rifles and machine guns to test ammunition. She worked nights, went to school days, and slept when she could.

When she graduated from college at age 20, her parents&rsquo gift was a Phi Beta Kappa key. From there she went on to do a fellowship at Radcliffe for a Master&rsquos in political science. In the 1970s she earned a law degree at Washington University in St. Louis, graduating near the top of her class.

I was writing about her then, and her classmates called me and complained that she was rarely in class.

In 2008, Washington University awarded her an honorary degree. Hundreds of students and some faculty got out of their chairs and turned their backs. Schlafly responded, by calling it &ldquoa happy day.&rdquo

She had, apparently into her old age, little to no self-doubt. Not surprising. That&rsquos how she was raised.


What Phyllis Schlafly Believed: An Unreleased Interview with the Late Anti-Feminist Activist

P hyllis Schlafly, who died yesterday at the age of 92, will long be remembered as one of the most politically consequential figures of her time. A tireless critic of feminism, she is best known for her successful campaign to block passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Through her many books, speaking engagements, newspaper columns, and near constant public writing for her monthly newsletter published by the organization she founded (the Eagle Forum), her impact was far wider than the ERA, as she helped shape vast numbers of conservative Americans’ views on everything from abortion and school prayer to racial inequality (she opposed civil rights reforms), the purported cause of sex scandals on college campuses (too many female students), and the evils, as she saw them, of Islam. She also persuaded countless numbers to reject the political “kingmakers” in the Republican Party—those northeastern elites who, she argued in her 1964 book A Choice Not an Echo and forever afterward, had unfairly picked Republican nominees for generations, rather than letting the grassroots choose their candidate. Most recently, she was vocal in her fervent support of one such grassroots contender, Donald Trump.

Schlafly was also one of St. Louis’s most famous residents—born here in 1924, a two-time graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, and the recipient of a 2008 honorary degree from the same institution, she died at her suburban home in St. Louis County. Long before moving to St. Louis myself, I had been fascinated by Schlafly, since hearing about her in childhood from my pro-ERA feminist mother, and I have written sporadically about her in my scholarly work. When I took my current job at Washington University five years ago, I sought out Schlafly for an interview, which she eagerly gave me in the headquarters of the Eagle Forum, minutes from my home. The following are excerpts from that interview, conducted on April 6, 2012, which have been edited lightly for length and clarity. Note that a number of her claims are factually incorrect—like her claims that the biggest part of the federal budget goes to welfare, that feminism’s main goal is to get rid of full-time homemakers, that women’s studies courses are programmed against marriage and children, that President Obama is a secret Muslim, and that all Muslim immigrants are put on welfare. Still, we are publishing this piece to illuminate a point of view and ideas that continue to hold sway with large swaths of the American populace. Schlafly’s viewpoints were never dull, always influential, and remained very controversial but steadfast throughout her long life in politics.

On how she built a coalition that defeated the Equal Rights Amendment:

When I took up the battle against the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, it was launched with one issue of my newsletter, The Phyllis Schlafly Report, now in its 45th year, an article called “What’s Wrong with Equal Rights for Women?” And in a few weeks I got a call from one of my friends who subscribed—the price was then $5 a year—and said “Phyllis, we took your newsletter to our legislature and they voted down the Equal Rights Amendment.” And then I knew we had something, so I invited 100 women from 30 states to come meet me in St. Louis and we started Stop ERA. Now when we got started the ERA had already been ratified in 30 states and they only needed 8 more and nobody thought we had a chance to win. The Equal Rights Amendment was supported by three Presidents: Nixon, Ford and Carter, all the governors, most of Congress, 99 percent of the media, Hollywood. Nobody thought we had a chance. But, at any rate, in those first few years, ‘72, ‘73, ‘74, ’75, we stopped it in the states where it came up, particularly Illinois, which was the frontline of the battle, and with my handful of Republican women friends. And then I realized we had to have reinforcements and that’s when I went to the churches and I asked people to bring 1,000 people to the Springfield, Illinois, state capital. It was on, I think, April 26th, 1976, and I consider that the day we invented the pro-family movement.

On her role in bridging religious differences to shape the pro-family movement and the Religious Right:

They came from all the different denominations. We had a Chicago rabbi who testified for us every year and the Protestants and the Catholics, the Mormons, they all came and I built the first Stop ERA, which morphed into Eagle Forum and we were a true ecumenical organization. We did not discuss theology and my policy was we’re all going to join together to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, which they all wanted to do for their own purposes. And I think it was the first building of the combination of the different denominations to work for a political goal, to come into the political process. And we just have to get along, that’s all, we’ve all got a goal and we’re going to work for it and we’re not going to discuss religion. But having Catholics and Baptists and Mormons and Jews in the same room was a new experience for everybody … After a few years, Jerry Falwell started his Moral Majority and when he brought the Baptists in to help us, we had a rally of 10,000 people in Springfield, Illinois. And we kept winning, although everybody who was anybody thought we couldn’t win. ERA was supported by everybody who was anybody from left to right, from Ted Kennedy to George Wallace, they all signed on to it. And we kept at it and our organization worked together and that was the beginning of what is now often called the Religious Right.

When we started out, the idea of Baptists and Catholics getting along was just not in anybody’s mind that [this] could possibly happen. In fact, one Baptist minister invited me to speak at his conference and he took all kinds of abuse for inviting a Catholic. Of course he invited me to speak on ERA, I wasn’t going to talk on theology, but people were mad about it anyway. And I told him, “Well I don’t have to come,” but no, he insisted that I come, but he took a great deal of abuse about that and people didn’t, they just didn’t like it. And then you can see also in the pro-life fight, Roe v. Wade came down in 1973, and immediately the Catholic bishops jumped in to fight it. Well, with the Catholic bishops leading the effort, the Protestants were not going to join, they just wouldn’t. And finally, about five years later they realized what the unborn baby is so they came along and now they’ve taken over the movement and we’re glad of that.

And then another evidence of how it’s changed in this period: I got a letter from one of the half a dozen top Evangelical leaders in this country, a very short letter, and he said “Thank you, Phyllis, for teaching me that Catholics worship the same Jesus that I do.” And I told this to a number of Protestant leaders and their eyes get big and they say, “Do you really realize how big that is?”

On her disdain for the Republican elite establishment and her support of the grassroots:

At the time of A Choice, Not an Echo and the fight for Barry Goldwater in 1964, the kingmakers were headquartered clearly in New York where Rockefeller had been governor a couple of times, and he was the epitome of everything we were against and it was very much dominated by the Chase Manhattan Bank. Now we still have the establishment but it’s not Chase Manhattan Bank and Rockefeller anymore. … That so-called moderate wing of the Republican Party, they’re very nervous with religious people around. The religious people don’t take orders like they expect people to take orders and they have some of their own ideas. And so you find their people saying things like “Well we don’t want to talk about social issues,” and for example, for years, official instructions would go out from the Republic National Committee to all their senatorial and congressional candidates, “Now don’t talk about abortion, don’t talk about it.” And one of my projects has been to make the Republican Party pro-life, and we have succeeded. Because under Nixon the Republican Party was pro-choice and I can remember going to conservative meetings and even there the prevailing view was pro-choice. But we have made it pro-life with knock-down, drag-out battles at every Republican convention until we’ve succeeded. And in 2010 almost every Republican who was elected, including all the women, is pro-life, and you almost now have to be pro-life to get a Republican nomination. Now that is a significant change and it shows where a lot of the votes are, and yet the establishment is still saying things like, “We don’t want to talk about social issues.” But the social issues are extremely motivating.

On the connections, as she saw them, among religion, marriage, and the welfare system:

We are now in a period where the ACLU and other organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State are out to abolish religion in every public place, whether it’s the Pledge of Allegiance or Ten Commandments or prayers at opening a legislature, or they want to stop the valedictorian from thanking God for helping her through high school and they want to prevent the grade school children from singing Christmas carols. I think they want to treat Christians like smokers: You can do it in your own room (chuckling) but you can’t do it in any public place. That’s really what we’re up against today. And of course in a lot of schools they don’t teach much American history anymore so the people don’t know. Well now we have a whole generation of parents who were so poorly educated that they don’t know what their children aren’t getting.

The biggest part of the federal budget is the money that is going through various types of welfare as a result of marriage absence. We had 71 percent illegitimate children born in this country last year. It’s just appalling. And there are 70 types of cash and benefits that go mostly to the single moms. It stands to reason you don’t have a husband provider, you’re going to look to big brother government. And they have cash and housing and food stamps and child care and all sorts of things, and now they’re even giving them all cell phones. And it’s approaching a trillion dollars a year, so if you care about the fiscal issues you’ve got to address yourself to what is the money being spent on. And this enormous amount of money is being spent because people have, well I guess given up their religion or their sense of morals and they’re not getting married and they’re having babies anyway and they expect the government to support them.

On the perceived hypocrisy, criticized by feminists, that Schlafly had a very active, public career while advocating the homemaker role for other women:

You know people have their different scale of sins, and when I started out it seemed like the biggest sin was wiretapping, and now the biggest sin is hypocrisy, and if they can tag that label on you, they think that you’re really a sinful person. No, it’s ridiculous. I spent 25 years raising my children. I did not have a paid job since I got married, but homemakers are not chained to the stove … I had a very supportive husband who loved everything I did. I’m thinking one of the real assets I had was that all my children were healthy. And as I’ve watched a lot of mothers who’ve had difficult health problems with their children I see how time-consuming that is, and all my children were healthy and smart and doing fine and didn’t give us any problems. But there’s plenty of other time to engage in politics, which was my hobby and I didn’t really do any overnight speaking to speak of until they were all off, basically until they were pretty much all off in college. The first time I ran for Congress in 1952, I never had to be gone overnight. It was just a two-county district you go out and give a speech and come back. So big deal.

On President Barack Obama:

I think there’s a good chance he’s a Muslim at heart. I don’t know, he says conflicting things, but I think he really wants us to be citizens of the world. He’s not for patriotism, he’s for making us think of ourselves as citizens of the world, which I think is all wrong. … I think Obama is doing all kinds of un-constitutional things.

On what she saw as the greatest current threats to American democracy, Islam and China:

I think our country’s not paying enough attention to the threat of Islam and the threat of China. I think they’re tremendous threats. I just did one of my last articles on how China’s cheating us and I’m going to do another one on how they’re cheating us in cyber warfare and what they can do to us. And Islam, I don’t think they ought to let Muslims come into this country who believe in or practice polygamy. And nobody will answer those questions for me. And I think they are coming in and I think they put them all on welfare and this country has opposed polygamy always. We’ve had laws against it since the middle of the nineteenth century and I don’t think we should tolerate that … So I think Islam is a tremendous danger they are out to kill us.

On why she believes feminists hate her so much:

Washington University gave me the highest honor a few years ago, an honorary doctor of something and the feminists just protested all over the place. They tried to stop it. And you have to ask yourself why did they hate me so much. And of course this protest was led by the female professors in the law school it wasn’t even student-led. Why did they hate me so much? And I really don’t think it was because I led the battle against the Equal Rights Amendment. I think it’s because I stood up for the full-time homemaker that they want to eliminate. In fact, if you read the literature of the feminists, which you don’t want to have to do, but Carolyn Graglia who wrote Domestic Tranquility has done a good job of reading all that tiresome stuff and their main goal is to get rid of the full-time homemaker. And you kind of have to ask yourself why do they hate the full-time homemaker. You would think if they were looking for some fancy career in the workforce, they’d be glad not to have the competition of all these women who prefer to stay home. But that isn’t the way they look at it. The way they look at it is when they get to the position of a promotion and second class and partner class and so forth, their competition is a man and he has an asset that she doesn’t have. He has a wife and she doesn’t have that and she can’t have a wife. And they want to take that. The wife is such a big asset to the man and they want to take that away from him. And so you find that all the women’s studies courses are all programmed, designed to program a young woman’s life with no space for marriage and children.

In answer to my question, “Do you think feminism got anything right, looking back over the years?”

No. I think it’s completely destructive because it starts out with the notion that American women are victims of the patriarchy. And if you start out thinking you’re a victim, you’re not going to get very far. But that’s what they teach: victims of the patriarchy, and they’re out to abolish the patriarchy. (chuckles)


LibertyVoter.Org

The ERA was on track to become the 27th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Then a grassroots conservative movement halted its momentum.

In 1972, it seemed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment was all but a sure thing.

First introduced to Congress in 1923 by suffragist Alice Paul, the proposed 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stated “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” had passed with both bipartisan and public support and was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

But the ERA included a seven-year ratification time limit clause (which Congress extended to 1982), and although 35 of 38 state legislatures needed for a three-quarters majority had voted to ratify the amendment, its proponents hadn’t counted on a conservative grassroots movement led by activist and lawyer Phyllis Schlafly that would ultimately lead to the ERA’s defeat, falling three states shorts.

“What I am defending is the real rights of women,” , and the Katzin Family Professor at Arizona State University, says one issue was the amendment was loose in its wording.

“That meant it was going to have to be interpreted by the courts and she—and her large number of followers—were concerned that the courts would interpret it as abortion on demand, same-sex marriage and women in the draft.” he says. “Furthermore, she felt that much of the legislation protecting women in pay and gender discrimination had already been enacted.”

The ERA got as far as it did, due to the work of second-wave feminists who had lobbied for years for its passage. Those who fought for the amendment included prominent figures such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Jane Fonda. Brandy Faulkner, a visiting assistant professor at Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, says the feminist momentum influenced not only Congress, but also the U.S. Supreme Court. Faulkner points out that Eisenstadt v. Baird, which established the right of unmarried people to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples, passed in 1971—just a year after Congress passed the ERA.

Schlafly’s strategy to defeat the ERA was to convince women that equality between men and women was undesirable.

“She consistently painted worst-case scenarios which, when juxtaposed with the lives of average white women at that time, led many of them to believe that inequality wasn’t so bad …read more


Phyllis Schlafly’s Early Life

Michael Mauney/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images Phyllis Schlafly grew up in a deeply conservative household where her mother was the family breadwinner.

Phyllis Schlafly was born Phyllis McAlpin Stewart on Aug. 15, 1924, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Odile Dodge, was a teacher and her father, John Bruce Stewart, was a machinist and industrial parts salesman.

The Stewarts struggled with money but her mother, holding two college degrees and high aspirations for her daughters, became the breadwinner. She worked multiple jobs as a department store clerk and a librarian at the St. Louis Art Museum.

Despite the family’s economic struggles, Schlafly’s father was a staunch Republican who opposed the New Deal, which was a set of federal programs enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to boost the US economy following the Great Depression.

Schlafly later attended Maryville College of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis — now Maryville University — before she transferred to Washington University. She was a diligent student who did little socializing outside the classroom. When she wasn’t busy with school work, Schlafly worked night shifts at the munitions factory.

She graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa in three years and through a scholarship, went on to pursue a master’s degree in political science at Radcliffe College, a liberal arts college now part of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It was during her time as a graduate student that Phyllis Schlafly began to show her ambitions for politics.


Marriage

While working in St. Louis in 1949, Schlafly penned an article for a bank&aposs newsletter. Attorney John Fred Schlafly Jr. appreciated the piece and came to meet its author. After overcoming his surprise that it had been written by a woman, he quickly fell in love. The couple wed on October 20, 1949.

In 1978 Schlafly received a law degree from Washington University. Her husband&aposs initial disapproval had prompted her to withdraw her application, but after he gave his permission — he believed that knowing the law would help in her fight against the ERA — Schlafly was able to pursue this course of study.


The story of the Equal Rights Amendment and the woman who killed it

P hyllis Schlafly has died, but her work lives on. Specifically her efforts to halt the Equal Rights Amendment.

At almost a century old, the ERA is the most ill-fated and long-suffering piece of legislation in American history. It was originally conceived in the early 1920s by suffragette Alice Paul, who told an audience in Seneca Falls, “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.” Such a constitutional amendment would function as an overriding piece of legislation, which could be used to challenge individual discriminatory laws in areas ranging from women’s property rights to equal pay and fair treatment in the workplace.

The ERA was proposed to Congress every single year between 1923 and 1970. During that period, the only time it ever made it to the floor for a vote was in 1946. A New York Times headline that year read “Equal Rights Near, Women Are Told” — but that proved too optimistic. Despite bipartisan support, and the devoted efforts of 33 nation-wide women’s groups, the bill was defeated.

The next time the ERA got that much airtime was in 1971. A lot had changed since 1946: Betty Friedan had founded the National Organization for Women, Gloria Steinem had gone undercover as a Playboy Bunny, and second-wave feminism was in full swing. While the backlash was sometimes intense, the mood of the nation was more in favor of the ERA than ever before, and a new generation of feminists organized to push it over the finish line.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of laws based on sex,” reflected Gloria Steinem in an interview with PBS. “To go one by one by one, we figured out it would take 485 years. So clearly it needed to be a constitutional principle.” In 1971, Congress overwhelmingly agreed. In 1972, the Senate followed suit. In order for it to become a constitutional amendment, 38 states needed to ratify the ERA by March of 1979 — and 30 did so within the first year. It seemed to many that the fight was already over.

B ut Phyllis Schlafly thought otherwise. Schlafly was a proud self-identified housewife from Missouri, who also happened to hold an advanced political science degree from Harvard’s women’s college, Radcliffe. She humbly referred to politics as a hobby, but it soon became her full-time job, as she devoted herself to her organization STOP ERA (the first word stood for Stop Taking Our Privileges). “The main trouble with the feminist movement,” she said, “is that it teaches women to be victims, that they are victims of the patriarchy. And I think that’s ridiculous. I think American women are the most fortunate class of people who ever lived on the face of the earth.”

Schlafly and STOP ERA, which from the beginning was primarily composed of religious and conservative middle-class white women, feared that the ERA would irreparably undermine the stability of American family life. “We don’t need this,” echoed STOP ERA member Shirley Curry. “We respect our role as mothers and housewives, and we want to keep that role above every other role.” The group latched onto the military draft, in particular. Its exclusion of women, they felt, was both a real privilege and an emblem of the kinds of protections women were bound to lose if they were constitutionally placed on equal footing with men.

This was not Schlafly’s first rodeo. In the 1950s, she and her husband had founded a group dedicated to organizing Catholics against Communism. In the sixties, she had written a popular book called A Choice Not an Echo, which called for a grassroots right-wing movement to upend the Republican establishment (naturally she was a major supporter of Barry Goldwater). She had previously tried and failed to run for Congress, but with the ERA on the line, Schlafly got her chance to participate in building that movement.

In the beginning, states had been so eager to ratify the ERA that Delaware actually filed too early. But starting in 1973, legislators in the remaining states faced mounting pressure to oppose the amendment — and five states even overturned their original ratifications. In her history of the ERA, Jane J. Mansbridge writes, “Many people who followed the struggle over the ERA believed — rightly in my view — that the Amendment would have been ratified by 1975 or 1976 had it not been for Phyllis Schlafly’s early and effective effort to organize potential opponents.”

The real tipping point came in 1977, when proponents of the ERA held a rally in Houston. A team of relay runners came by way of Seneca Falls, where Alice Paul had first proposed the amendment. Three former first ladies — Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson — were all in attendance. The primary aim of this National Women’s Conference was to champion the ERA, but delegates also put together a platform that affirmed abortion rights and gay rights. “This conference was so crucial,” said attendee Suzanne Ahn, “because it marked the first time in my life that it was recognized that there was a social movement happening in this country.”

But Schlafly, not to be outdone, planned her own “pro-family rally” on the same day, also in Houston. “There are many differences between this meeting, and the one in that other hall today,” said Schlafly. She then condemned the Women’s Conference for failing to open with a prayer, and warned that the ERA would lead straight to gay marriage. “By coming here today, you have shown that that is not what American women want.”

Representative Bob Dornan — who had a yen for epithets such as “lesbian spear chucker” and “betraying little Jew” — took the stage and got straight to the point. “The greatest tragedy of all was to see three former first ladies of this nation approving of sexual perversion and the murder of young people in their mother’s wombs,” he said, and the crowd went wild. The Women’s Conference had tied abortion and gay rights to the ERA, and conservatives took great pleasure in following suit. The dual rallies received national media coverage, and were a crucial originary moment in what would become, over the next decade, a full-blown culture war.

By 1979, when the deadline for ratification of the ERA arrived, the amendment was three states short. The deadline was extended to 1982, but still Schlafly’s camp emerged victorious, and no new ratifications took place during the extension period. As historian Judith Glazer-Raymo put it, “The ERA’s defeat seriously damaged the women’s movement, destroying its momentum and its potential to foment social change.”

The fight also inspired a larger groundswell of conservative sentiment, which helped land Ronald Reagan in the White House and set the tone for the 1980s.

The amendment has been re-proposed to Congress every year since its defeat, but it hasn’t made it to the house floor in more than thirty years. The hundredth anniversary of the ERA is nearly upon us, and it’s easy to imagine a centenary revival. Will 2023 be its lucky year?


How Phyllis Schlafly Derailed the Equal Rights Amendment

In 1972, it seemed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment was all but a sure thing.

First introduced to Congress in 1923 by suffragist Alice Paul, the proposed 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stated "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex," had passed with both bipartisan and public support and was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

But the ERA included a seven-year ratification time limit clause (which Congress extended to 1982), and although 35 of 38 state legislatures needed for a three-quarters majority had voted to ratify the amendment, its proponents hadn&rsquot counted on a conservative grassroots movement led by activist and lawyer Phyllis Schlafly that would ultimately lead to the ERA&rsquos defeat, falling three states shorts.

"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."


Phyllis Schlafly

On the occasion of Phyllis Schlafly’s death at the age of 92 there has been much said about her political importance. Below are excerpts from my book, A War for the Soul of America, that demonstrate her crucial role in shaping the intellectual foundations of the conservative culture wars.

(Excerpted from Chapter 3: “Taking God’s Country Back”)

The individual most responsible for foiling the ERA was Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative activist from St. Louis who first made a name for herself with her self-published book, A Choice, Not an Echo, widely distributed in support of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for president. In September 1972, after being convinced of the need to resist the feminist movement, Schlafly founded STOP ERA. Until then, she had focused her activism primarily on national defense issues. As a Catholic, she had not yet been attuned to the social issues that animated evangelicals, like school prayer. By shifting gears, Schlafly brought a large network of conservative Catholic women—those who read her Phyllis Schlafly Report, which had in the range of 30,000 subscribers throughout the 1970s—into the majority-evangelical movement to defeat the ERA. In this, like Francis Schaeffer, she built ecumenical bridges to likeminded conservatives of different religious faiths. (1)

Schlafly’s first shot against the ERA hit its mark, in the form of a 1972 Phyllis Schlafly Report essay, “What’s Wrong with ‘Equal Rights’ for Women?” Schlafly argued that the ERA would obliterate special legal protection afforded to women, including the insulation provided by the traditional family, which “assures a woman the most precious and important right of all—the right to keep her baby and be supported and protected in the enjoyment of watching her baby grow and develop.” In this, Schlafly defined the parameters of the winning campaign to defeat the ERA: if men and women were legal equals, men had no obligation to provide for mothers. In other words, equal rights for women actually meant that special rights for mothers would be revoked. Such special rights were paramount because Schlafly believed that motherhood was a woman’s most fulfilling calling, a belief that directly challenged “women’s libbers” like Betty Friedan, who “view the home as a prison, and the wife and mother as a slave.” Schlafly tarred feminists as the enemies of motherhood, an association that stuck. (2)

As resistance to the ERA grew throughout the 1970s, the ratification process stalled. Some states that had previously ratified the amendment even reversed their votes. As it became less and less likely that the ERA would be ratified, Schlafly’s reputation as the intellectual force behind the movement to defeat the ERA grew. With the 1977 publication of The Power of the Positive Woman, arguably the definitive antifeminist manifesto, her status as the nation’s most iconic antifeminist was cemented. The first step in becoming a “positive woman,” another term for a confident antifeminist in Schlafly’s elocution, was to embrace the natural differences between men and women. Consistent with such an essentialist understanding of sexual difference, Schlafly encouraged STOP ERA activists to accentuate traditional gender roles, such as dressing particularly feminine, when lobbying state legislators. To the dismay of feminists, this strategy worked to perfection. Some of the more conservative legislators, of course, hardly needed their paternalistic egos stroked in such a way. “To pass a law or constitutional amendment saying that we are all alike in every respect,” argued Illinois State Representative Monroe Flynn, “flies in the face of what our Creator intended.” Conservative Christians like Flynn related feminist attempts to eliminate sexual difference to secular efforts to erase God from the public sphere. Schlafly snidely suggested that if feminists had a problem with sexual difference they might also have a problem with God. “Someone, it is not clear who, perhaps God,” she wrote, “dealt women a foul blow by making them female.” (3)

Schlafly’s antifeminism had a playful side to it. When addressing conservative crowds, she often started in the following customary way: “First of all, I want to thank my husband Fred, for letting me come—I always like to say that, because it makes the libs so mad!” Such friskiness was an effective contrast to the humorless recriminations feminists directed her way. During a 1973 debate on the Illinois State University campus, Friedan infamously told Schlafly: “I would like to burn you at the stake.” “I consider you a traitor to your sex,” Friedan continued, “an Aunt Tom.” Florynce Kennedy wondered “why some people don’t hit Phyllis Schlafly in the mouth.” Such nastiness spoke to the fact that Schlafly had come to signify the backlash against feminism and the impending defeat of the ERA, which feminists believed was a necessary and inevitable step to full equality. (4)

Schlafly’s rhetoric, of course, could also be hard-hitting. This was specifically the case when she theorized about the ways feminism might empower an immoral government over and against the moral family. Describing these implications in hypothetical fashion, she wrote: “if fathers are not expected to stay home and care for their infant children, then neither should mothers be expected to do so and, therefore, it becomes the duty of the government to provide kiddy-care centers to relieve mothers of that unfair and unequal burden.” Such analysis suggested that women’s liberationists, in their demand for total equality, wanted to empower Washington bureaucrats to enforce social engineering programs that would undermine the traditional family. In this, Schlafly helped bring together two conservative trajectories—cultural traditionalism and anti-statism—demonstrating that the culture wars, rather than an evasion of political economic debates about how power and resources were to be distributed, represented a new way of having such debates. Exemplifying this commingling of conservative ideologies, a 1976 Phyllis Schlafly Report headline about a coming convention on women screamed about “How the Libs and the Feds Plan to Spend Your Money.” (5)

The convention referenced in Schlafly’s headline, a government-sponsored International Women’s Year (IWY) conference, became a lightning rod for cultural conservatives. Schlafly described the 1977 Houston convention as “a front for radicals and lesbians.” Indeed, many of those involved in organizing the IWY convention were outspoken feminists, thanks to Midge Costanza, who, as Carter’s chief of the White House’s Office of Public Liaison, was charged with appointing members to the IWY Commission. Costanza designated liberal New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug—who once claimed “a woman’s place is in the house, the House of Representatives”—to chair the commission. Pentecostal televangelist Pat Robertson, who until then, happy to have a fellow born again Christian in the White House, had sung Carter’s praises, seethed: “I wouldn’t let Bella Abzug scrub the floors of any organization that I was head of, but Carter put her in charge of all the women in America, and used our tax funds to support that convention in Houston.” Costanza’s other selections, highlighted by feminist notable Gloria Steinem, editor of Ms. magazine, did little to inspire the confidence of religious conservatives, who organized to gain their share of delegates to the Houston convention. After managing to secure only 25 percent of the delegation, Schlafly and other conservative women decided to put on a counter-IWY conference at Houston’s Astro Arena. Their Pro-Family Rally attracted some 20,000 attendees. (6)

The IWY convention’s official platform, approved by vote of the delegation, was decidedly left of center. Not only did it call for the ratification of the ERA, but it also included abortion-on-demand and gay rights planks. The staid feminism that informed NOW at its origins had given way to a more radical vision of gender equality, signaled by Friedan’s public change of heart regarding the relationship between feminism and gay rights. In 1969, she infamously called lesbianism a “lavender herring,” charging that gay rights would tarnish the feminist agenda. But at the 1977 Houston convention, Friedan seconded a resolution to support gay and lesbian rights, a huge symbolic victory for the gay rights movement. Although this newly expansive alliance illustrated the power of New Left feminist sensibilities, it also played into the hands of religious conservatives like Schlafly, who believed the radicalism of the IWY platform signified “the death knell of the women’s liberation movement.” “The Women’s Lib movement has sealed its own doom,” she proclaimed, “by deliberately hanging around its own neck the albatross of abortion, lesbianism, pornography and Federal control.” (7)

(Excerpt: introduction to Chapter 5: “The Trouble with Gender”

At a swanky party in Washington, D.C. on June 30, 1982, 1,500 right-wing activists gathered to celebrate the defeat of the ERA. Much to the delight of the guests, who included prominent conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly, Jesse Helms, and Jerry Falwell, a rendition of “Ding, Dong the Witch Is Dead” marked the official passing of the deadline to ratify the amendment. The Christian Right, it seemed, had risen from the ash heap of history to reclaim the nation from feminists and secular humanists. As President Reagan optimistically pronounced two years later: “Americans are turning back to God.” (8)

(1) Donald T. Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 212-242. The definitive work on Schlafly.

(2) Phyllis Schlafly, “What’s Wrong with ‘Equal Rights’ for Women?” Phyllis Schlafly Report (May 1972). Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism, 217-218.

(3) Phyllis Schlafly, The Power of the Positive Woman (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1977), 11-12. Monroe Flynn’s quote is in Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism, 226.

(4) Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism, 247, 12, 227.

(5) Schlafly, The Power of the Positive Woman, 21. Self, All in the Family, 313.

(6) Schlafly quote is in Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism, 245. Robertson quote is in Flippen, Jimmy Carter, the Politics of the Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right, 121.

(7) Marjorie J. Spruill, “Gender and America’s Right Turn,” in Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, Bruce J. Schulman and Julian E. Zelizer, eds. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 71-89. “Betty Friedan,” in JoAnn Meyers, The A to Z of the Lesbian Liberation Movement: Still the Rage (New York: Scarecrow Press, 2009), 122. Schlafly’s first quote: Flippen, Jimmy Carter, the Politics of the Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right, 149. Second quote: Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism, 247-248.

(8) Elisabeth Bumiller, “Schlafly’s Gala Goodbye to ERA,” Washington Post, July 1, 1982, C-1. Brian T. Kaylor, Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics (New York: Lexington Books, 2010), 55.


Ronald Reagan Paved the Way for Donald Trump

Phyllis Schlafly, the longtime conservative anti-feminist who helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment and propel the Republican Party to power, has died.

Despite the tremendous damage she did to women, and progressive causes more generally, I had a great deal of respect for Schlafly, not least because she was a woman who managed to navigate — and amass — power in a man’s world, all the while denying that that was what women wanted at all.

That denial, coupled with the rampant sexism of her world, cost her dearly. It was none other than Catharine MacKinnon, her most formidable antagonist, who caught the full measure of Schlafly’s greatness, and tragedy, in two 1982 debates with Schlafly over the ERA:

Mrs. Schlafly tells us that being a woman has not gotten in her way. That she knows what she is saying because it happened to her. She could be one of the exceptional 7.8 percent, although who’s to know?

I do submit to you, though, that any man who had a law degree and had done graduate work in political science had given testimony on a wide range of important subjects for decades had done effective and brilliant political, policy, and organizational work within the party had published widely, including nine books was instrumental in stopping a major social initiative to amend the Constitution just short of victory dead in its tracks, and had a beautiful, accomplished family — any man like that would have a place in the current administration.

Having raised six children, a qualification not many men can boast of (and if so probably with less good reason) did not make the difference. I would accept correction if I am wrong, and she may yet be appointed. She was widely reported to have wanted such a post, but I don’t believe everything I read, especially about women. She certainly deserved a place in the Defense Department. Phyllis Schlafly is a qualified woman.

I charge that the Reagan Administration has discriminated against Phyllis Schlafly on the basis of her sex.

It was a devastating rebuttal to Schlafly’s position, yet it captured, with uncharacteristic tenderness and solicitude, a poignant truth about Schlafly: she was extraordinarily talented yet denied the full measure of her greatness by the forces she most faithfully served.

“Even without directly engaging the progressive argument, conservatives may absorb, by some elusive osmosis, the deeper categories and idioms of the left, even when those idioms run directly counter to their official stance. After years of opposing the women’s movement, for example, Phyllis Schlafly seemed genuinely incapable of conjuring the prefeminist view of women as deferential wives and mothers. Instead, she celebrated the activist ‘power of the positive woman.’ And then, as if borrowing a page from The Feminine Mystique, she railed against the meaninglessness and lack of fulfillment among American women only she blamed these ills on feminism rather than on sexism.

When she spoke out against the Equal Rights Amendment, she didn’t claim that it introduced a radical new language of rights. Her argument was the opposite. The ERA, she told the Washington Star, ‘is a takeaway of women’s rights.’ It will ‘take away the right of the wife in an ongoing marriage, the wife in the home.’

Schlafly was obviously using the language of rights in a way that was opposed to the aims of the feminist movement she was using rights talk to put women back into the home, to keep them as wives and mothers. But that is the point: conservatism adapts and adopts, often unconsciously, the language of democratic reform to the cause of hierarchy. . . .

Antifeminism was a latecomer to the conservative cause. Through the early 1970s, advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment could still count Richard Nixon, George Wallace, and Strom Thurmond as supporters even Phyllis Schlafly described the ERA as something ‘between innocuous and mildly helpful.’ But once feminism entered ‘the sensitive and intensely personal arena of relations between the sexes,’ writes historian Marjorie Spruill, the abstract phrases of legal equality took on a more intimate and concrete meaning.

The ERA provoked a counterrevolution, led by Schlafly and other women, that was as grassroots and nearly as diverse as the movement it opposed. So successful was this counterrevolution — not just at derailing the ERA, but at propelling the Republican Party to power — that it seemed to prove the feminist point. If women could be that effective as political agents, why shouldn’t they be in Congress or the White House?

Schlafly grasped the irony. She understood that the women’s movement had tapped into and unleashed a desire for power and autonomy among women that couldn’t simply be quelled. If women were to be sent back to the exile of their homes, they would have to view their retreat not as a defeat, but as one more victory in the long battle for women’s freedom and power.

As we saw, she described herself as a defender, not an opponent, of women’s rights. The ERA was ‘a takeaway of women’s rights,’ she insisted, the ‘right of the wife to be supported and to have her minor children supported’ by her husband. By focusing her argument on ‘the right of the wife in an ongoing marriage, the wife in the home,’ Schlafly reinforced the notion that women were wives and mothers first their only need was for the protection provided by their husbands.

At the same time, she described that relationship in the liberal language of entitlement rights. ‘The wife has the right to support’ from her spouse, she claimed, treating the woman as a feminist claimant and her husband as the welfare state.”

When my book came out, I was interviewed by S. E. Cupp, the conservative journalist, on C-SPAN. In the middle of our interview, I had a Marshall McLuhan moment, as Cupp read out some of these passages, and then told me she had emailed them to Schlafly the night before. Schlafly’s response? She said I was full of crap.


Watch the video: An Echo Of History Trump Wont Want To Hear. Rachel Maddow. MSNBC