Feminine but forceful, Phyllis Schlafly is a very liberated woman
Looking crisp and composed in a red shirtwaist dress, red-white-and-blue scarf and frosted hair, Phyllis Schlafly arrived last week at the Illinois capitol with 500 followers. To symbolize their opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, which was about to be voted on in the house, the women had brought loaves of home-baked breadapricot, date nut, honey-bran and pumpkin. But as she climbed onto a kitchen stool to address the cheering crowd, Schlafly the demure housewife turned into Schlafly the aggressive polemicist. The passage of ERA, she declared, would mean Government-funded abortions, homosexual schoolteachers, women forced into military combat and men refusing to support their wives.
For the past six years, Schlafly, 53, has been delivering similar exhortations to similar gatherings, helping to turn public opinion against ERA, which is still three states short of ratification. After passing 35 state legislatures in five years, ERA was defeated last year in Nevada, North Carolina, Florida and Illinois. Last week the amendment lost once again in Illinois when the house narrowly defeated it. With no other state legislature scheduled to vote on ERA, the amendment will expire on March 22, 1979 unless Congress agrees to extend the deadline.
ERA'S decline has been largely the result of Schlafly's small (20,000 members) but highly disciplined organizations, Stop ERA and Eagle Forum. While the feminists have splintered over the issues of abortion and lesbian rights, Schlafly's troops have centered their efforts on ERA. They have evolved into a formidable lobbying force, allied with local and national right-wing groups, including HOW (Happiness of Women) and AWARE (American Women Are Richly Endowed).
Flying from state capital to state cap ital, the savvy, disarming Schlafly matches the feminists' rhetoric phrase for phrase. She bluntly proclaims that "all sensible people are against ERA," and dismisses the liberationists as "a bunch of bitter women seeking a constitutional cure for their personal problems." In many of her speeches, she continues to insist that "women find their greatest fulfillment at home with their family."
Schlafly, however, is hardly a typical housewife. Author of nine books, a three-time candidate for the U.S. Congress, full-time law student at Washington University in St. Louis, editor of a monthly newsletter, twice-a-week syndicated newspaper columnist and regular speaker at anti-ERA rallies, she acts very much like a liberated woman. By her own reckoning, she is away from her family at least once a week. She employs a full-time housekeeper to care for her six-bedroom Tudor-style mansion overlooking the Mississippi River in Alton, 111.
How does Schlafly reconcile her career with her stay-at-home dogma? "My husband lets me do what I want to do," she says. "I have canceled speeches whenever my husband thought that I had been away from home too much." Besides, she adds, "when I fill out applications, I put down 'mother' as my occupation." She boasts that she breast-fed every one of her six children and later taught each of them how to read. Says she: "I work all the time. I'm organized. I've learned to budget every minute."