NEW YORK –”She is my heroine and my example … She truly is the mother of the modern conservative movement … I think she is the most important woman in the United States in the last 100 years.”
That’s how Minnesota congresswoman and former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann describes WND’s 2012 “Lifetime Achievement Award” recipient – Phyllis Schlafly.
A guiding light in the conservative movement for at least a half century, Schlafly’s life-long interest in politics was kindled almost accidentally – that is, if one believes in accidents. Schlafly unfolded her amazing story during an interview with WND.
“During World War II, I worked my way through college at Washington University in St. Louis by working on the night shift testing .30 and .50 caliber ammunition for St. Louis Ordnance Plant, one of the largest ammunition manufacturers in the country at that time,” she recalled in an interview with WND.
“Since I worked half the time 4 p.m. to midnight, and half the time midnight to 8 a.m., as a ballistics tester for an ammunition plant, I had to pick my class schedule to fit my work schedule. That’s what led me into a political science major, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Washington University in St. Louis in 1944, Schlafly earned her master of arts degree in government from Harvard in 1945.
“From there, I worked for the brand new American Enterprise Institute when it was just a little four-room office on 9th Street in Washington,” she recalled.
“Then I came home to St. Louis, I ran the campaign of Claude Bakewell, a Republican candidate for Congress in 1946, which was our biggest Republican year. Things were simpler then – I was the campaign manager, the scheduler, the speech writer – and he won.”
“After I married Fred Schlafly in 1949, we moved to Alton, Ill., where he practiced law, and I became a full-time homemaker,” she recalled. “I never had another job.”
Get Phyllis Schlafly’s “No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom,” co-authored with George Neumayr.
Again, as fate would have it, in Alton, politics once again pursued Schlafly.
“I had one child about one-and-a-half years old when the Republican Party came to my husband in Alton and asked him, as a prominent lawyer in town, if he wanted to run for Congress.”
Fred Schlafly was not interested.
“My husband didn’t want to run, but in the course of the evening’s conversation, someone asked me if I wanted to run. They talked me into it, and so I decided to run. Then, when I won this hot primary, [it] became a big news event because I was running for Congress as a young woman with a young baby.”
Although Schlafly lost the election, while the course of running, the Republican Party asked her to deliver the keynote speech at the state convention in Springfield, Ill.
“I remember it was not an air conditioned building,” she said. “The speech turned out to be a sensation. After that speech, I started to get invitations to speak from all over the state.”
From there, she volunteered for the Illinois Federation of Republican Women, an organization of 30,000 women, and was eventually elected president, serving in that office for five years.
In 1952, she attended the Republican National Convention in Chicago, where she supported the presidential candidacy of stalwart conservative Sen. Robert Taft.
“I watched the convention steal the election from Taft and give it to Dwight Eisenhower,” she explained. “By the time we got to 1964, I had spoken to hundreds of organizations and been to all the conventions. We wanted grassroots Republicans to nominate the party’s presidential candidate. We didn’t want the kingmakers to do it.”
“In 1964, the kingmakers’ candidate was Nelson Rockefeller and our candidate was Barry Goldwater,” she noted.
This prompted Schlafly in 1964 to write the book that propelled her onto the national political scene, the self-published sensation titled “A Choice, Not an Echo.”
Grassroots conservatives in the Republican Party wanted a true choice, declared Schlafly, not an establishment party candidate who was just an echo of the Democrats’ candidate.
“So, I made a financial plunge of ordering 25,000 books,” she told WND. “I typed out a letter on my Underwood Standard typewriter, cut a stencil and went down to the basement to crank out 200 copies on my old-fashion mimeograph machine, and sent the letters to friends around the country. And I ended up selling 3 million copies out of my garage.”
One million copies were sold in California alone, Schlafly said.
“In 1964, California’s primary was in June, and it was the decisive primary that year. Republican Party officials in California told me that ‘A Choice Not an Echo’ was a major factor that year in Barry Goldwater winning the California primary.”
Schlafly devised “a wonderful price schedule,” whereby the price for one copy was 75 cents, but if the purchaser bought 100 copies, the price dropped to 30 cents, and for 1,000 books, the cost was only 20 cents each.
“The dedicated Goldwater supporters in California figured out it took 300 books to work a precinct. What made the book go was that it changed people. The precinct workers would go out and distribute the book and then when they came back to canvas the voters once again, Rockefeller supporters had changed to be Goldwater voters, and so did LBJ supporters. I still meet people frequently who tell me they read ‘A Choice Not an Echo,’ and that’s when they came into the conservative movement.”
In August 1967, Phyllis Schlafly created the volunteer Eagle organization that in 1975 was incorporated as Eagle Forum, and she began writing “The Phyllis Schlafly Report,” a monthly newsletter she has written without interruption every month until the present – a publication now in its 46th year.
‘The Equal Rights Amendment’
In February 1972, Schlafly wrote one issue of the “Schlafly Report” on the topic, “What’s Wrong with Equal Rights for Women?”
This launched a national movement to defeat ratification of the proposed constitutional amendment called the Equal Rights Amendment, which once again propelled Schlafly to national prominence.
“By 1972, I had gained enough experience to know how to play politics,” she told WND.
“Nobody gave us a chance. The ERA had big political momentum, the support of three presidents, and nearly 100 percent of the media. In its first year of national political debate, the amendment had been ratified by 30 of the 38 states needed to put ERA into the Constitution. The fight lasted 10 years, 1972 to 1982.”
In the middle of her battle to defeat the ERA, Schlafly got her law degree at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I applied for law school at Washington University as a bet with one of my sons that we would both take the LSAT exams and whichever one passed would go to law school. My husband was a very successful lawyer, and I felt one of our children ought to go to law school.”
Both passed, but Schlafly had never told her husband about the law school bet.
“One day at the dinner table, I announced that I had been accepted to start law school at Washington University that September, in 1975,” she recalled. “Fred had a tantrum. He said, ‘That’s the craziest thing I ever heard. You are trying to defeat the ERA and you are traveling around the country to testify and give speeches. You don’t have time for law school.”
Schlafly wrote Washington Law School and declined the acceptance, only to find a couple of weeks later that her husband had changed his mind.
“So, I wrote to the dean of Washington Law School and they accepted me a second time,” she explained. “So, in September 1975, I began attending law school full time.”
A lot of time during Schlafly’s law school years was spent in a telephone booth, she recalls, giving radio interviews and instructing Eagle Forum members around the country on fighting the ERA.
In 1978, Schlafly earned her J.D. from Washington University Law School in St. Louis, and she is currently admitted to the practice of law in Illinois, Missouri, the District of Columbia and before the United States Supreme Court.
At an amazing 88 years of age, Phyllis Schlafly continues to carry the conservative torch. She travels, gives speeches, heads Eagle Forum, hosts a weekly radio talk show, holds national events for college students, authors books and writes a weekly syndicated column featured on WND. Among her 20 books are “The Supremacists: The Tyranny of Judges and How To Stop It” and her latest, “No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom.”