By People Staff
Updated April 28, 1975 12:00 PM

What I am defending,” says Phyllis Schlafly, “is the real rights of women. A woman should have the right to be in the home as a wife and mother.”

The 50-year-old conservative Republican lobbyist from Alton, Ill. was talking about her successful crusade against the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. It has been ratified by only 34 of the 38 states needed for adoption. Thanks in large part to Schlafly’s shrewd tactics and relentless energy, ERA has failed this year to win approval in four other states, and chances look dim for the rest of 1975.

The amendment says that “equality of rights under law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

“I argue ERA strictly and solely on the rights women will lose because of it,” says Schlafly, adding that if it passes, “the right to be provided with a home, to go to a single-sex college, and to stay home and be a mother will be lost.”

Her opponents charge that Schlafly’s interpretation is unfair. State senator Esther Saperstein, a co-sponsor of the bill in Illinois, says Schlafly has distorted “the whole purpose of the amendment. She has told well-meaning women that if ERA passes, their husbands won’t have to support them.”

Schlafly’s well-financed juggernaut has been undeniably effective. When the amendment was to be voted on in Illinois last month, some 3,000 women trooped to the state capitol to lobby against it. The troops were spearheaded by Mrs. Schlafly, who showed up with a bullhorn and two toy wagons full of leaflets and STOP ERA buttons. She divided the women (and some sympathetic men) into “combat teams” with lawmakers as their targets. The effort paid off when the final vote on ERA by the legislature was postponed indefinitely. Other tactics which Schlafly has tried in capitals around the country include delivering homemade apple pies to legislators, symbolizing the joys of hearth and home. She once passed out jelly jars festooned with red ribbons and the inscription, “Preserve us from a congressional jam; Vote against the ERA sham.”

In spite of her hectic lobbying activities, Schlafly maintains that the role of wife and mother comes first in her life. She taught her four boys and two girls—they range in age from 10 to 24—to read at home rather than send them to kindergarten and first grade. She says nothing pleases her more than fixing a buckwheat cake breakfast for her family—when she’s home. Because of her traveling she does employ a cleaning lady five days a week and has a personal secretary. “We’re kind of strict about some things,” she says. “Attention to studies, church on Sunday, good table manners and good use of time.”

Clearly, Schlafly’s interests go far beyond ERA. She worked her way through Washington University in St. Louis, putting in 40 hours a week as a gunner testing ammunition in a wartime munitions plant. After earning a Master’s degree in political science at Radcliffe, she wrote a celebrated book, A Choice, Not an Echo, in support of Goldwater’s presidential candidacy in 1964. She recently co-authored a new book, Kissinger on the Couch, explaining that “my main goal is to rebuild the defense of our country by ending the policies of Henry Kissinger.” Her husband, Fred, a corporation lawyer, is the current president of The World Anti-Communist League. (“He doesn’t wash dishes or anything of that sort,” says his wife.)

Phyllis Schlafly makes such good use of her time that she exercises while watching the evening news. What is her driving force? “I think of my marriage and family as my number one career,” she says. “When I fill out applications, I put down ‘Mother’ as my occupation. I feel it’s as rewarding for most women as it is for me.”