THE SWEETHEART OF THE SILENT MAJORITY: The Biography of Phyllis Schlafly by Carol Felsenthal
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THE SWEETHEART OF THE SILENT MAJORITY: The Biography of Phyllis Schlafly

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Fans of archconservative antifeminist Phyllis Schlafly will want to read this because it's a grudgingly admiring portrayal: Chicago freelancer Felsenthal (""urban, liberal, Jewish"") couldn't find any skeletons in Schlafly's closet or any traitors in her ranks, and she doesn't try to find any flaws in her arguments--whose success she, like Schlafly, seems to attribute to their validity. But foes of Schlafly will want to read it too--to see wherein the power of an absolutist lies. In Schlafly's case, dramatically, the family foretold the child, and the child foretold the woman. Her father was a Roosevelt-hater and, though out-of-work for years, a fervent, even rabid champion of free enterprise. Her mother was a St. Louis blueblood who worked five-and-a-half days at one job to support the family, and an extra day at the select, traditionalist Sacred Heart school in exchange for tuition for ""brilliant"" Phyllis. Self-assured, organized, determined--no one ever remembers her otherwise--Schlafly put herself through Washington University by test-firing ammunition at night: an odd sort of job, even during wartime, which Felsenthal identifies as the start of her avid interest in weaponry (but doesn't otherwise reflect upon). An honor graduate in just over three years, she won a fellowship to Radcliffe and earned an M.A. in political science before she was 20, Her ideas as set, already, as her habits, she went to work for the business-supported American Enterprise Institute/Association; ran the successful congressional campaign of a ""tough anti-Communist"" Republican; and became, at 23, researcher/speech-writer/free-enterprise-drumbeater for a St. Louis bank. One of her newsletters caught the eye of like-minded Alton, Illinois, lawyer Fred Schlafly, and after an echt-conservative courtship (one date a week, much matching of wits--as to e.g., the outcome of the Communist trials), the two were married--the end of Schlafly's working days, the beginning of her big family, her union-of-Church-and-State (Fred Schlafly's influence), her leadership of women's groups. At this point we have separate takes on Fred Schlafly (dominated?), the six terrific kids (disaffected?), and sister Odile (disenchanted?)--none of whom, commendably, does her dirt. And then comes a recital of her public career, from her '52 race for Congress (""she was going to become not just a good speaker, but a great one""), to her '64 authorship of A Choice Not an Echo (which may have won the nomination for Goldwater), to her '67 loss of presidency of the National Federation of Republican Women (she was too extreme for the menfolk), to her notorious--and remarkable--success in stopping ERA. Much of this is perforce revealing (the strategy, the preparation), but the treatment is lightweight, with little interpretation or analysis. The personal material, on the other hand, has an intrinsic fascination--and no end of unexplored implications.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1980
Publisher: Doubleday