Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative political activist who devoted much of her energy in the 1970s to stopping the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment that would have banned discrimination on the basis of sex in the U.S., has died. Schlafly died at home in St. Louis, according to The Washington Post, and had been sick with cancer for “quite some time.” She was 92.
Schlafly, who proudly declared herself a “housewife” despite passing the Illinois bar in 1978, first entered the public realm in which she thought women like herself didn’t belong in the 1950s, when she campaigned against the threat of international Communism. According to The New York Times, by the ‘60s, she had become a best-selling author with her self-published book A Choice Not An Echo, which sold more than three million copies. She was also a vocal proponent of Senator Barry Goldwater, who was defeated in his 1964 presidential bid but whose ideas would come to fruition in the ’80s under Ronald Reagan.
Schlafly would play a key role in that conservative revival, rallying religious groups from fundamentalist Christians to Orthodox Jews in opposition to the changing social mores of ‘70s America. She formed an organization called the Eagle Forum in 1973, advertising it as “an alternative to women’s liberation” and using it to fight legalized abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment, which she said would be a “step down” for women who were already “well-treated” by society. When the ERA—Schlafly’s pet cause for the better part of a decade— finally failed to pass in 1982, Schlafly threw a “burial party” for the amendment and told reporters that the bill’s defeat marked “a new era of harmony between women and men.”
But Schlafly, who projected the image of the ideal wife and mother in pearls and a stiff hairdo, wasn’t just against the ERA: She vocally opposed Title IX, illegal immigration, ballots in languages other than English, co-ed bathrooms, and the advancement of the LGBT community, among other causes. On the latter topic, Schlafly called Reagan attorney general C. Everett Koop’s attempts to introduce AIDS education in schools—measures Schlafly’s political opponents derided as too little, too late—“the teaching of safe sodomy.”
Throughout her political career, Schlafly—who rain for Congress several times and employed a full-time nanny to watch her children while she was away campaigning—maintained a contentious relationship with feminists, who loved to point out the irony of Schlafly, a full-time career woman, declaring that “a woman’s place is in the home.” In response, Schlafly would describe her career as a “hobby,” and thank her husband for allowing her to give speeches. “I’d like to thank my husband, Fred, for letting me be here today,” she said before a 1977 “pro-family” rally. “I like to say that because it irritates the women’s libbers more than anything.”
She also frequently made inflammatory statements on sexual harassment (“sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women”), equal pay for equal work (she called women fighting to receive the same salaries as their male co-workers “jealous”), and sex education in schools (“sex-education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions”), all seemingly designed to provoke her feminist adversaries.
Even after her husband’s death in 1993 and the outing of one of her sons as gay in 1992, Schlafly maintained her defiantly traditional stance until the end of her life. In 2010, she declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that no woman was fit to be President of the United States, even after praising Sarah Palin when she was chosen as John McCain’s running mate in 2008. She also advocated “shotgun marriages” as the only solution to unwanted pregnancies in 2011, and endorsed Donald Trump in a Breitbart interview earlier this year, calling him “the only hope to defeat the Kingmakers” and warning that if Trump didn’t win in November, “we’re not going to be America anymore.”