Conservative ac­tivist, Ea­gle Fo­rum founder

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Jim Sal­ter

ST. LOUIS — Phyl­lis Sch­lafly, the out­spo­ken conservative ac­tivist who helped de­feat the Equal Rights Amend­ment in the 1970s and founded the Ea­gle Fo­rum po­lit­i­cal group, has died. She was 92.

Sch­lafly died Mon­day af­ter­noon of can­cer at her home in St. Louis, her son John Sch­lafly said.

Sch­lafly rose to na­tional at­ten­tion in 1964 with her self-pub­lished book, “A Choice Not an Echo,” which be­came a man­i­festo for the far right.

The book, which sold 3 mil­lion copies, chron­i­cled the his­tory of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion and is cred­ited for help­ing conservative Sen. Barry Gold­wa­ter of Ari­zona earn the 1964 GOP nom­i­na­tion.

She later helped lead ef­forts to de­feat the pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that would have out­lawed gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, gal­va­niz­ing the party’s right. She’d grad­u­ated from col­lege while work­ing overnight at a fac­tory dur­ing World War II; her col­umn ap­peared in dozens of news­pa­pers; and she was po­lit­i­cally ac­tive into her 90s.

Yet, she said in 2007 that per­haps her great­est legacy was the Ea­gle Fo­rum, which she founded in 1972 in sub­ur­ban St. Louis, where she lived. The ul­tra-conservative group has chap­ters in sev­eral states and claims 80,000 mem­bers.

“I’ve taught lit­er­ally mil­lions of peo­ple how to par­tic­i­pate in self-gov­ern­ment,” Sch­lafly said. “I think I’ve built a won­der­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion of vol­un­teers, mostly women but some men, will­ing to spend their time to get good laws and good politi­cians.”

The Ea­gle Fo­rum pushes Phyl­lis Sch­lafly be­came an out­spo­ken critic of the Equal Rights Amend­ment as mo­men­tum for it grew. for low taxes, a strong mil­i­tary and English-only ed­u­ca­tion.

The group is against ef­forts it says are pushed by rad­i­cal fem­i­nists or en­croach on U.S. sovereignty, such as guest-worker visas, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, which de­scribes the Equal Rights Amend­ment as hav­ing had a “hid­den agenda of tax-funded abor­tions and same-sex mar­riages.”

As mo­men­tum grew in the 1970s for the amend­ment, Sch­lafly be­came its most out­spo­ken critic — and was vil­i­fied by its sup­port­ers. She had a pie smashed into her face and pig’s blood thrown on her, and fem­i­nist Betty Friedan once told Sch­lafly: “I’d like to burn you at the stake.” She was chas­tised in a 1970s “Doonesbury” — a framed copy of which hung on her of­fice wall.

“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.”

Thirty-five states rat­i­fied the amend­ment, three short of the nec­es­sary 38. Sch­lafly said amend­ment sup­port­ers couldn’t prove it was needed.

“They were never able to show women would get any ben­e­fit out of it,” she said in 2007. “It (the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion) is al­ready sex-neu­tral. Women al­ready have all the rights that men have.”

Saint Louis Uni­ver­sity his­tory pro­fes­sor Don­ald Critchlow, who pro­filed Sch­lafly in his 2005 book, “Phyl­lis Sch­lafly and Grass­roots Con­ser­vatism: A Wo­man’s Cru­sade,” said the de­feat of the amend­ment helped re­vive con­ser­vatism and helped pave the way for Ron­ald Rea­gan’s elec­tion in 1980.

“What the ERA (de­feat) did was show the right, and es­pe­cially Rea­gan strate­gists, that a new con­stituency could be tapped to re­vi­tal­ize the right. It al­lowed the right to take over the party,” Critchlow said shortly af­ter his book was writ­ten.

Sch­lafly was born Aug. 15, 1924, and grew up in De­pres­sion-era St. Louis.

In 1952, with her young fam­ily liv­ing in nearby Al­ton, Ill., Sch­lafly’s hus­band, at­tor­ney John Sch­lafly Jr., was ap­proached about run­ning for Congress. He de­clined, but she ran and nar­rowly lost in a pre­dom­i­nantly Demo­cratic dis­trict. She also ran un­suc­cess­fully for Congress in 1970.

Sch­lafly earned a master’s de­gree in gov­ern­ment from Har­vard in 1945. She en­rolled in Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity School of Law in 1976, and, at age 51, grad­u­ated 27th in a class of 204.

Sch­lafly re­mained ac­tive in conservative pol­i­tics well into her later years, when she was still writ­ing a col­umn that ap­peared in 100 news­pa­pers.

Her hus­band died in 1993. She is sur­vived by six kids, 16 grand­kids and three great­grand­kids.

KEL­LEY MCCALL/AP 2000

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