Phyllis Schlafly says American women are the 'most privileged in the world' — without the ERA
A political writer for the Alton Telegraph, he has had the opportunity to observe Mrs. Schlafly's activities both in Alton and in the Capitol. He is a graduate of Southern Illinois University.
ONE LIBERAL feminist magazine sneeringly called Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly of Alton "the sweetheart of the silent majority." Despite the source of the jibe, the name may stick with the trim blonde mother of six and leader of the national "Stop ERA" movement.
Phyllis Schlafly has a national following and a national podium in her segment of the CBS Radio Network's "Spectrum" program, broadcast 18 times weekly, but her base of activity is the quiet little Illinois town of Alton, some 25 miles north of St. Louis. Mrs. Schlafly was born there, 50 years ago. From her elegant Tudor mansion in Alton's exclusive Fairmount Addition, she orchestrates her campaign to defeat the ratification of the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, commonly referred to as the Equal Rights Amendment. But Phyllis Schlafly's reputation is hardly built on just that one issue. In the past decade, the woman who was once known around Alton simply as the wife of attorney J. F. "Ted" Schlafly and a hard-working Republican partisan, has emerged as one of the most vigorous conservative voices in America.
Apple pies for votes
In 1964, she wrote the pro-Goldwater book A Choice, Not An Echo. She has written five other books, run twice unsuccessfully for Congress and, since early 1973, campaigned nearly fulltime against the Equal Rights Amendment.
Her "Stop ERA" work, which she says is financed solely by the sales other "Phyllis Schlafly Reports," a monthly newsletter produced from her home, has taken her to virtually every state in which the ERA has been debated, including frequent trips to the Illinois Capitol at Springfield. At the Capitol, she has led other women in passing out apple pies to legislators and reporters to emphasize the type of activity in which, she feels, women should be engaged.
Mrs. Schlafly, who has a master's degree from Harvard and bachelor's from Washington University in St. Louis, could easily spend her time in social and philanthropic endeavors in Alton, but the forceful articulation of basic conservative tenets has led her quickly to the forefront of reactionary politics in America. She has never held public office, but her effect has been felt at the highest levels. Her Goldwater book was considered by many to be the manifesto of the 1964 GOP campaign.
Mrs. Schlafly calls American women, without the ERA, "the luckiest and most privileged in the world. It is a wonderful right that a wife be provided with a home by her husband. There are always going to be women," she said, "who can sweet-talk their husbands into doing nice things for them. But they would have no legal rights [to support] under the ERA."
Radio audience of five million
In addition to her presentations at rallies and before legislatures around the country, Mrs. Schlafly reaches an audience estimated by CBS at five million with her radio reports. She has also been a controversial guest on the NBC-TV "Today" show and the nationally syndicated TV show "Not For Women Only." On one "Today" appearance, in October 1973, Mrs. Schlafly contended that the ERA-type provision in the Pennsylvania Constitution was taking away from women the right to support by their husbands. Kathleen Herzog Larken, deputy attorney general in Pennsylvania, responded with a letter to N BC in which she said Mrs. Schlafly's allegations were "a serious misstatement of the law of this state. Mrs. Schlafly's incorrect misrepresentations have created a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding among the women of this Commonwealth. This inaccurate presentation of the effects of the Equal Rights Amendment legislation is detrimental to the efforts which this slate has taken to insure full equality under the law for all its citizens."
Not yet attacked state Constitution
Illinois' Constitution also contains wording very similar to the proposed U.S. Equal Rights Amendment, but Mrs. Schlafly has not yet attacked it. Her own Illinois, which in 1974 refused to ratify the federal amendment, has embodied within the 1970 Constitution wording which grants the same freedoms and responsibilities as the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The proposed federal amendment reads: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." In the Illinois Constitution of 1970, Article I, Section 18 reads: "The equal protection of the laws shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex by the State or its units of local government and school districts."
Mrs. Schlafly has called ERA advocates "those bra-burning nuts," and, "they're basically just a group of unhappy women." Legislators who dare to vote to ratify the ERA are "against motherhood." Because of such attacks, plus personal visits to state legislatures and the buttonholing of conservative politicians at all levels, "we've stopped the momentum for passing ERA," Mrs. Schlafly said.
70 / Illinois Issues/March 1975
The small town of Alton is one of the pivot points In the national anti-ERA movement. Its most famous resident thinks that the momentum for passing the ERA amendment has been stopped
Indeed, the early rush to passage, with six states ratifying the amendment within 48 hours after passage by Congress, has subsided. Advocates and Fees alike admit it may be hard to get the full 38 states' ratification by 1978 as required.
While Phyllis Schlafly cannot personally take all the credit (or blame) for hat slowing action, she has been the single most important individual involved in trying to stop passage of the amendment. Two other nationwide anti-ERA groups have also sprung up — HOW (Happiness of Women) and AWARE (American Women Are Richly Endowed) — but both followed the trail-blazing "Stop ERA." While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, there is a cold, hard respect for Phyilis Schlafly among the "opposition" — groups dedicated to seeing the ERA passed.
Pat Keefer, chief national strategist for one such group, said she and other pro-ERA leaders take very seriously Mrs. Schlafly's stand on ERA and the following she is able to muster. "We're taking each of her arguments and answering them one by one," Miss Keefer said in a recent interview., Among the states left to ratify the ERA, Miss Keefer concedes that Illinois, a pivotal state in the fight, "is going to be difficult." Illinois is the largest state in which ERA still has a chance and the one closest to passage in the new 79th legislature. In 1974, the measure passed both houses, but by less than the three-fifths margin ruled necessary by then Senate President William Harris (R., Pontiac), and then House Speaker W. Robert Blair (R., Park Forest).
Criticized as hypocrite
Phyllis Schlafly has become so identified with the movement to defeat the
Equal Rights Amendment that attacks by pro-ERA speakers and writers often turn into personal attacks on her. One such line of attack argues that her own brand of woman-on-the pedestal philosophy does not square with her media activities nor with her frequent trips to political meetings and legislatures. Her critics point out that Mrs. Schlafly is just as immersed in her career as most ardent feminist leaders are in theirs. In short, she is accused of being a hypocrite who preaches the stay-at-home life and practices something quite different. "Ridiculous," she counters. Mrs. Schlafly says she combines career and home by carrying on the majority other work from her home, spending an average of one day a week out of town and regularly arising at 6:45 a.m. to make breakfast for her husband and six children.
Mrs. Schlafly's foes argue that poor women are most likely to benefit from passage of the ERA, and that Mrs. Schlafly, a fairly wealthy woman, cannot truly relate to them. Her simple response is: "I was a gunner and a ballistics technician," working her way through Washington University by working in the U.S. Army's St. Louis Ordnance Plant during World War II, test-firing rifles and machine guns during a 48-hour work week. Mrs. Schlafly also notes that many pro-ERA women are business or professional women "who never lifted anything heavier than a coffee cup."
Supports Reagan for President
Fighting ideas she calls "radical," such as the ERA, is not at all out of character for the arch-conservative housewife. In addition to her book praising Goldwater, which many feel was a significant influence on the 1964Republican National Convention, Mrs. Schlafly has recently spoken in support of fellow-conservative Ronald Reagan for President. She was also reportedly tied to a conservative 1968 campaign group called "Americans for Law and Order," and has pointed opinions on a variety of public figures and topics. Henry Kissinger, detente, George McGovern and defense spending have all elicited strong statements from her.
On Kissinger, she has said, "I called attention to the emotional nature of his press conference in Salzburg" where the secretary of state threatened to quit if his name were not cleared of charges of wiretapping. She was impressed with the fact that Kissinger was trembling and "has his finger on the nuclear trigger."
On dentente: "I think detente is a fraud. The Americans are very much a live-and-let-live people, but the Soviet Union is spending at least 40 per cent of its gross national product on weapons."
McGovern: "He would have dismantled our defenses even faster."
Defense expenditures: "At the present time, they are the smallest since the 1930's, about six per cent of our gross national product. I think we ought to spend whatever is necessary to regain our superiority."
What's next for the former gunner who still shoots from the hip? (lip?) She says that once the ERA is permanently defeated, she wilt work on a book detailing the federal government's defense expenditures. "That's my bag,'' she says. "But until I'm convinced that the ERA is dead, my work on defense spending will have to wait."
New York magazine
Empire State Report, a monthly magazine on government and politics in New York state, has begun publication with a December 1974 issue. It is published by Empire State Report, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, One Columbia Place, Albany, N. Y. 12107. Subscription rate for individuals is $18 per year, with a special service at $40 per year and a full service at $100 per year. Timothy B. dark is editor and publisher.
March 1975 /Illinois Issues/71