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Phyllis Schlafly’s voice was a beacon for conservatives for half a century

Longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly endorses Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump before Trump begins speaking at a campaign rally in St. Louis on March 11, 2016. Schlafly has died, according to a statement from the Eagle Forum, the organization which she founded. She was 92.
Longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly endorses Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump before Trump begins speaking at a campaign rally in St. Louis on March 11, 2016. Schlafly has died, according to a statement from the Eagle Forum, the organization which she founded. She was 92. AP

Phyllis Schafly, one of the most important figures in modern conservative politics and a major force in Missouri’s politics for decades, died Monday in St. Louis. She turned 92 years old less than a month ago.

The death was first announced by Eunie Smith, first vice president of the Eagle Forum, the group Schlafly founded in the 1970s. “There will never be another Phyllis Schlafly,” Smith’s statement said.

In a statement, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called Schlafly “a conservative icon who led millions to action, reshaped the conservative movement, and fearlessly battled globalism and the ‘kingmakers’ on behalf of America’s workers and families.”

Schlafly had been in ill health for some time, and was recently confined to a wheelchair. Yet she attended the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland — as a delegate for Trump — and campaigned for him during the primaries.

She remained active in conservative politics until her death. The Eagle Forum website published a column Aug. 31 on transgender bathroom lawsuits that carried Schlafly’s byline.

“It’s just a very sad, sad day,” said John Hancock, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party. “Phyllis was iconic in the conservative movement.”

Schlafly was a lawyer, author, and mother of six children. In 1964 she wrote a book called “A Choice Not An Echo” endorsing the candidacy of Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

But she rocketed to public prominence in the 1970s, when she led the battle against amending the U.S. Constitution to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender.

It was known as the Equal Rights Amendment, and had been relatively uncontroversial — until Schlafly stepped in. She argued the amendment would mean women in combat roles, same-sex marriage, and taxpayer funding for abortions.

She led a furious and ultimately successful effort to defeat the amendment in state legislatures where it had not passed. “Phyllis … shot it dead,” conservative columnist Pat Buchanan wrote Monday.

She later called defeat of the ERA her greatest political achievement. “Everything was against us, from the media to the politicians, the whole political structure of the country,” she told Time magazine in 2009.

The work against the ERA prompted the founding of Schlafly’s Eagle Forum group, but it also marked her as one of the most important conservative voices in the United States. She authored a news letter, hosted a radio program, and appeared in countless television and newspaper interviews on a wide range op topics — her fierce opposition to abortion rights, her support of the military, her anger at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Her appearances and speeches would often touch off loud rallies on college campuses, both for and against her positions on issues.

It was not lost on Schlafly’s critics that a woman who argued against constitutionally-guaranteed equal rights for women was actively involved in politics and government outside the home. She called such criticism ridiculous.

“I’m an example that women can do whatever they want to do,” she told Time magazine. “I’ve had it all, but I’ve had it at different times in my life.”

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc

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