On Monday, we lost an American icon and hero for women.
Phyllis Schlafly, the First Lady of the conservative movement, was a force of nature. She led a revolution of American women while raising six children, fighting the Equal Rights Amendment, writing a syndicated column, writing an 800 page book, and getting her law degree from Washington University in St. Louis. This is after she received her Masters from Harvard and turned down an opportunity to attend Harvard Law School--which at the time was not accepting women. She paved the way for the conservative revolution of Barry Goldwater and ultimately Ronald Reagan's presidency.
Phyllis also ran for office and in 1970 during one of her congressional races her opponent rudely remarked that Phyllis should be at home with her children. She famously responded that, "My opponent says a woman’s place is in the home. But my husband replies, a woman’s place is in the House -- the U.S. House of Representatives." Cue feminists demanding they invented that line...
Her work outside the home never supplanted the work within and as she raised her children she was also an advocate for parental rights, education, and school choice.
And in case those topics were not enough, she was also an expert on national defense and immigration among many other issues.
I first learned about Phyllis in my Women in American History class in college and was lucky enough to meet her in person many times after moving to Washington, DC.
The first time I met her was an experience I will never forget and will carry with me always. I was starting my first job as a development associate and my first assignment was to fly to Michigan to drive one of our donors to a Tea Party rally in Kalamazoo to see Phyllis, his hero. I remember meeting her and being in awe. Not only was she totally awesome, but she was the first person I had met that I studied in school--a big deal for a history major.
After the rally, she held a private meeting with Tea Party leaders to talk through strategy and the current political landscape weeks after Obamacare had passed. After getting over the excitement of the historic conversation unfolding before my eyes, I took in as much as I could. There is one piece of advice that she said that stands out from the conversation. She mentioned that if she knew that the ERA fight would be 10 years long she might not have started. But thinking about how long a battle will be should not be a determining factor in deciding to start. If you are fighting for the Truth and what is right, time is not a concern. Begin immediately, and keep going. Keep fighting.
Upon reflecting on Phyllis Schlafly's incredible life, I could not help but be struck by the fact that she died on St. Mother Teresa's first feast day and how fitting that truly is. These are two great Catholic women of the 20th Century who were courageous and unafraid to speak truth to power. They were both unapologetically women in all senses of the word and didn't need to deny part of themselves to make a difference in the public square. Both women created revolutions and movements from outside the established leadership circles by serving others--for Mother Teresa it was the poor of Calcutta, the outcasts of society, and the unborn; and for Phyllis Schlafly it was fighting for the voiceless and against the radical pro-abortion ideology that feminists falsely proclaimed represented all women. They didn't need permission to start. They simply followed God's call in their life.
Both Phyllis Schlafly and St. Mother Teresa among many other great women have left our generation with an inspiring challenge: to continue the fight for Truth even if the establishment rejects the message. Fighting for the dignity of every human being is at the core of our society.
We have big shoes to fill, but we begin immediately and will keep fighting. May Phyllis' soul and all the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace.