“They definitely underestimated me. They did not believe that I could win.”
A commanding conservative voice for the anti-feminist movement, Phyllis Schlafly, who died on September 5th at the age of 92 was, “one of the most polarizing figures in American public life,” according to the New York Times. Yet, she deserves to be remembered both by conservatives who already applaud her legacy, as well as by liberals who normally celebrate the achievement of remarkable women.
In the 1970’s, she almost singlehandedly defeated the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed change to the Constitution. Feminists favored it while Schlafly rallied conservative opposition, arguing that despite the ERA’s pleasing tone, it would prevent the government from distinguishing between men and women in its laws, with implications for everything from public restrooms, military service, and child support.
The ERA was well on its way to ratification, having passed both houses of Congress and approaching passage in three- fourths of the states, when Schlafly began her activism, by 1982, it had failed.
She managed all this while raising six children— “I spent 25 years as a full-time homemaker and 25 years allows for a lot of time for hobbies, and politics was my hobby,” Schlafly told Makers, a PBS documentary series on important American women.
She wrote 27 books, including 1964’s, “A Choice, Not an Echo,” her first and most influential, which sold three million copies. “I wrote it on a little type writer and we sold them right out of my garage,” Schlafly told Makers. Her final book, The Conservative Cause for Trump (co-authored by Ed Martin and Brett M. Decker), was published the day after her death. She was a pro-family, anti-feminist, self-made woman. Her success in politics can be attested to her gritty mentality and her commitment to action. She also had a sense of humor. She often began her speeches by thanking her husband, Fred, for allowing her to speak.
In 1972, Schlafly founded the Eagle Forum — an advocacy organization that enables “conservative and pro-family men and women to participate in the process of self-government and public policy,” according its website.
She also visited Hillsdale College several times. In a 2012 interview with The Collegian, she offered advice to students: “Work marriage into your life plan,” she said. “Marriage is a wonderful way to live.”
Schlafly’s efforts may seem a contradiction to the very principles of gender traditionalism. Writing her own books, traveling to give speeches, and organizing protests are anything but traditional for a mother of six children, but perhaps her success is the greatest example of what those ideals allowed her to do. She would bristle at being called a feminist, but she definitely showed us how much women can achieve. The next time somebody frets about how much motherhood holds back women, tell them that Schlafly was on the campaign trail, changing the course of American politics when her oldest child was 18 months old.
“I am very proud of my family — my six children,” she told Makers. “But if you’re talking about politics, teaching the conservative movement…that it is possible to win. I think that was a real accomplishment, and that would be the one I’m most proud of.”
Phyllis Schlafly may be gone, but her example will continue to challenge the way we think — and for that, America must thank her for a fearlessly led life.
Torres is a senior studying rhetoric and public address.