Firebrand conservative, anti-Communist and anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly, who helped polarize US politics by shifting the Republican party to the right, died on Sept. 5. She was 92.
Schlafly’s lifelong mantra was that a woman’s role is to be mother and wife. She is perhaps best known for defeating the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s—an accomplishment for which feminist icon Betty Friedan said she should “burn at the stake.”
The ERA would have constitutionally guaranteed equal rights for women. It had already passed Congress when Schlafly launched a grassroots campaign to defeat it, calling on volunteer cohorts of church-going women. In 1982, the amendment died with ratification from only 35 states of the required 38.
“Since the women are the ones who bear the babies and there’s nothing we can do about that, our laws and customs then make it the financial obligation of the husband to provide the support,” Schlafly said at the time. “It is his obligation and his sole obligation. And this is exactly and precisely what we will lose if the Equal Rights Amendment is passed.”
Schlafly first made her name in the 1960s, as a public supporter of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. She was a staunch anti-Communist, and declared the nuclear bomb “a marvelous gift given to our country by a wise God.” But her main cause was fighting for traditional family values.
A mother of six and self-described housewife, Schlafly loved to bait the country’s burgeoning feminist movement. “I’d like to thank my husband, Fred, for letting me be here today,” she said, repeating a favorite opening line at a rally in 1977. “I like to say that because it irritates the women’s libbers more than anything.”
Opponents criticized Schlafly as hypocritical, for preaching that a woman’s place was at home while pursuing her own political career (and a law degree). They also pointed out that the money of her wealthy husband, an member of a rich Illinois family, gave her uncommon freedom to be a “housewife” and yet active in the public sphere. She would respond that politics was a just a hobby—albeit one that eventually transformed the GOP, by politically mobilizing vast numbers of grassroots conservatives.
In March this year, Schlafly endorsed Republican candidate Donald Trump for president. “We have been stuck with the losers chosen by the Republican establishment for so long, and it’s time for a change,” Schlafly said. “Now we have a guy who is going to lead us to victory!”
Schlafly was suffering from cancer, her family said.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Schlafly died in August, and not in September.