Conservatives’ first lady sparked pro-family effort

ST. LOUIS — Few living Americans have done as much to shape the nation’s direction as Phyllis Schlafly, who is arguably the most important woman in American political history.

She is the suburban housewife turned best-selling author who heralded conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Republican presidential campaign as “A Choice, Not an Echo,” followed up by becoming an authority on nuclear-missile defense and then, in a stunning upset, led the forces that defeated the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

When asked about her greatest accomplishments, however, Mrs. Schlafly takes care to mention perhaps the most important lesson of her long career — “teaching conservatives that we can win.”

Along the way, she helped arouse the slumbering giant of American politics — millions of socially conservative but previously apolitical churchgoers. She saw their potential and figured out how to turn them into a separate force on the political right.

What Mrs. Schlafly calls the “pro-family movement” helped elect Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to the White House and establish Republicans’ decadelong dominance in Congress.

She got an early start — in 1942, at the world’s largest munitions plant in St. Louis.

“I went to work on my 18th birthday, on the night shift, firing machine guns and rifles to test .30- and .50-caliber ammunition for accuracy, penetration, hang fire, velocity — and went to college in the day,” she says.

She finished her degree a year early and sees “no reason for anybody to go [to college] any longer than three years.”

At 81 — she looks 51 — she is sitting poised, tailored and elegant in her office at the suburban St. Louis headquarters of her Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund. She speaks precisely, without a single thought-collecting “um” or “uh.”

Time-wasting is not a Schlafly trait. Hard work is.

Last summer, she sat through every long, grueling session, every day and evening for a week, of the platform-writing committee at Republican National Convention in New York. She secretly negotiated with presidential adviser Karl Rove and the platform writers to make sure it remained her kind of conservative document on everything from abortion to immigration.

Since 1983, she has delivered, five days a week, a three-minute report on more than 450 radio stations across the country, voicing her amalgam of libertarian concerns about constitutional liberties and religious conservative emphasis on social issues. She airs her views on everything from “battling the gay and feminist agenda” to “protecting freedom against government snooping.”

She broadcasts her hourlong radio call-in show, “Phyllis Schlafly Live,” every Saturday. For 38 years, she has published a monthly newsletter. Her syndicated column appears in 100 newspapers.

She has written 21 books that have sold millions of copies, but never once put her children into day care while she pursued her political career.

After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis and then getting a master’s in government from Harvard, she married J. Fred Schlafly and became a full-time mother. She taught her six children to read before they entered school. When they were on their own, she earned a law degree and admittance to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.

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