Phyllis Schlafly: Biography, Books & the Equal Rights Amendment

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The women's rights movement is an important part of American history, but did this mean the same thing to everyone? In this lesson, we'll talk about Phyllis Schlafly, and examine her contributions to American history.

Phyllis Schlafly

Women's rights are a big topic in American history. A lot of time, we tend to view the history of women's rights as an issue of women versus men, embattled feminists fighting the patriarchy. We don't always acknowledge the fact that women's rights meant different things to different women. This can make for some interesting history. One of the most complex figures in modern women's rights issues is Phyllis Schlafly, lawyer, political activist, and national advocate for the rights of American housewives.

Phyllis Schlafly
Phyllis Schlafly

Life and Early Career

Phyllis Schlafly was born in Missouri in 1924. Her father was a lawyer, her mother was a librarian and schoolteacher, and Phyllis also showed an aptitude for her education. She received a bachelor's degree from Washington University in 1944, a master's in political science from Harvard in 1945, and a J.D. from the Washington University Law School in St. Louis in 1978.

While she was advancing her education, Schlafly started working her way into political and activist circles, becoming a national voice for female conservatives. Her first major rise to prominence came in 1964, when Schlafly self-published a book called A Choice Not An Echo. This book described a trend within the Republican Party in which certain members of the party essentially controlled presidential nominations. Schlafly wanted to challenge this group, advocating through her book the nomination of Senator Barry Goldwater as the Republican presidential candidate for the 1964 election. Goldwater did end up as the Republican candidate, and though he lost, Schlafly was catapulted to national fame as an icon of conservative values. A Choice Not An Echo was one of 20 books she would write on topics ranging from family values to phonics.

Political Career

As a major advocate for conservative political values, Schlafly started tackling national issues. In 1972, she founded a volunteer grassroots organization called the Eagle Forum. The Eagle Forum focuses on issues of public policy and has maintained an active presence in Washington DC, as well as other major cities, for over forty years. She later published a monthly conservative newsletter called the Schlafly Report and hosted a radio talk show on education called the 'Eagle Forum Live'. Schlafly was awarded the Women of Achievement Award in 1963, was listed as one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century by the Ladies' Home Journal, and has appeared before more than 50 Congressional and State legislatures.

The Equal Rights Amendment

Of all of Schlafly's political battles, perhaps none is as well recognized as her fight against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA was first proposed back in 1923 to guarantee equal rights for women. It was passed by both the House and Senate in 1972, and given a ratification deadline of 1979. Now, off the bat this amendment sounds like a great idea. Equal rights for women -- who could be against that? Actually, a number of people were, including Phyllis Schlafly. While the middle class was largely supportive of the ERA, many working class women argued that the amendment would restrict policies on working conditions and hours that benefited women.

Schlafly was more interested in the rights of American housewives, and this is where her opposition to the ERA came in. Schlafly started a movement called Stop Taking Our Privileges, or STOP, which mobilized support against ratification of the amendment. According to Schlafly, the ERA would remove privileges that American housewives relied on, such as the Dependent Wife benefits of Social Security. Furthermore, the ERA could make women subject to conscription in wartime, threaten the practices of alimony that sustained divorcees, and endanger the financial security of widows. STOP emerged as the national leader opposing the ERA, defined by its conservative ideologies that framed the issue largely in terms of maintaining traditional family values.

STOP slogan

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