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Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman's Crusade (Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America) [Hardcover]

Donald T. Critchlow
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)


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Book Description

September 11, 2005 0691070024 978-0691070025 1st Printing

Longtime activist, author, and antifeminist leader Phyllis Schlafly is for many the symbol of the conservative movement in America. In this provocative new book, historian Donald T. Critchlow sheds new light on Schlafly's life and on the unappreciated role her grassroots activism played in transforming America's political landscape.

Based on exclusive and unrestricted access to Schlafly's papers as well as sixty other archival collections, the book reveals for the first time the inside story of this Missouri-born mother of six who became one of the most controversial forces in modern political history. It takes us from Schlafly's political beginnings in the Republican Right after the World War II through her years as an anticommunist crusader to her more recent efforts to thwart same-sex marriage and stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

Schlafly's political career took off after her book A Choice Not an Echo helped secure Barry Goldwater's nomination. With sales of more than 3 million copies, the book established her as a national voice within the conservative movement. But it was Schlafly's bid to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment that gained her a grassroots following. Her anti-ERA crusade attracted hundreds of thousands of women into the conservative fold and earned her a name as feminism's most ardent opponent. In the 1970s, Schlafly founded the Eagle Forum, a Washington-based conservative policy organization that today claims a membership of 50,000 women.

Filled with fresh insights into these and other initiatives, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism provides a telling profile of one of the most influential activists in recent history. Sure to invite spirited debate, it casts new light on a major shift in American politics, the emergence of the Republican Right.



Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Betty Friedan once snapped at Phyllis Schlafly, "I'd like to burn you at the stake." And this engaging, if flawed, biography of the doyenne of U.S. conservatism during the heated early 1970s makes it clear why: it's not just Schlafly's far-right stands on feminism and reproductive rights, but her formidable debating skills and political organizing experience. Critchlow (a professor of history at St. Louis University) draws widely on both unlimited access to his subject's private papers and a broad range of other social documents. And there's much here that is fascinating, such as a mesmerizing account of Schlafly's place in the byzantine infighting of Catholic anticommunist groups in the early 1960s. But the book wavers between being a sustained account of Schlafly's career and a comprehensive political history of the conservative and religious right—and delivers fully on neither. Further, Critchlow's detached and even tone reflects none of the political passion that gripped Schlafly's life and work. While this may be a historian's attempt at objectivity, it often makes Schlafly less compelling, even at her most politically extreme—when she said the 1960s race riots were led, in part, by "federally funded poverty workers." (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"[This] new political biography . . . by Donald Critchlow, follows Schlafly from her birth to the present day--at eighty-one, she is still putting out the Report. Critchlow, a history professor at Saint Louis University, argues for the exemplarity of Schlafly's life, which, he claims, parallels the rise of American conservatism."--Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

"In Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism, Donald T. Critchlow uses the career of the woman feminists love to hate as a lens through which to examine the neglected history of grassroots conservatism in postwar America. Critchlow combines scholarly rigor with fine prose to produce the best book ever written on this subject."--Bracy Bersnak, American Spectator

"Had Schlafly been a figure of the Left, this book extolling her remarkable achievements would join a bookcase of similar flattering portraits acknowledging her as one of the most influential Americans in the second half of the 20th century. But because her influence prevented a destructive feminist agenda from being enshrined in the Constitution, she has had to wait 50 years for this book--the work of a respectful academic who has delved into the archives to tell an important untold story."--Kate O'Beirne, National Review

"In this riveting, valuable book, Donald Critchlow makes the case for a Great Woman theory of history."--Charlotte Allen, First Things

"Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman's Crusade, by Donald T. Critchlow is a biography of a conservative, activist woman leader and the history of the grassroots minions she organized, almost single-handedly transforming the image of a conservative woman from the little old lady in tennis shoes, searching for communists under her bed, to a movement of well-organized, sophisticated women volunteers who moved into party politics. She may be the only woman of the late 20th century who could be accurately called as influential as Susan B. Anthony."--Suzanne Fields, Washington Times

"Critchlow has provided an important and compelling new exploration of the rise of the postwar right."--Catherine E. Rymph, Reviews in American History

"As Donald T. Critchlow explains in impressive detail . . . two decades of experience in Republican politics, including a pair of unsuccessful congressional campaigns, taught [Phyllis Schlafly] how to craft arguments that would stir a wide audience, how to focus on hot-button issues and talking points, how to choose appealing representatives to make a case, and the importance of organizing at a local level and working tirelessly to fire up the troops."--Frederic D. Schwarz, American Heritage

"[Phyllis Schlafly] is now . . . the subject if an overdue biography, and fortunately it hasn't been written by a women's studies professor who hates her. Donald T. Critchlow . . . treats Schlafly with the respect she deserves. He enjoyed exclusive access to her personal files and provides genuine insights into her life and times."--Charlotte Hays, DC Examiner

"Critchlow has written a fine, and long overdue, biography of this activist from Alton, Illinois. He has also chronicled the rise of the modern American conservative movement after the Goldwater debacle. His is a bottom-up history of grassroots political organizing, and the role women played in it, and a top-down tale of the woman who led it. . . . [A] truly compelling account."--Karlyn Bowman, The Weekly Standard

"Donald Critchlow's heavily footnoted Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman's Crusade is as much a history of red-state conservatism as it is a biography of a conservative blue-staters love to hate. Particularly when viewed through the prism of gender politics, Mrs. Schlafly's accomplishment is remarkable. . . . . Mrs. Schlafly took a movement of lumpen proletariat and brought it the center of American power and institutions."--Jessica Gavora, The New York Sun

"Donald Critchlow . . . has presented us with a comprehensive, meticulously researched and thoroughly readable biography. . . . Critchlow's book is likely to be the most comprehensive account of Schlafly's remarkable life for quite some time to come."--William A. Rusher, Claremont Review of Books

"Donald Critchlow . . . has written a worthy biography of the woman and her times. . . . By focusing on Schlafly and the grassroots conservative world she helped build, he challenges the knee-jerk idea that conservative foundations and think tanks wholly powered the resurgence of the right."--Abby Scher, The Public Eye

"Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism is a tour de force. By situating an important political figure in a broader social movement, Critchlow contributes greatly to our understanding of American politics in the last half of the twentieth century."--Jonathan J. Bean, H-Net Reviews

"Critchlow . . . fairly delineates [Schlafly's] beliefs and her objections to modern liberalism. It is a worthy contribution to the history of the conservative political movement."--University Bookman

"So influential has the Right been in shaping the American social and political culture in the last twenty-five years that one might be tempted to see its rise to power as inevitable. But as Donald T. Critchlow argues in his political biography of Phyllis Schlafly, one of the twentieth century's most influential conservatives, the emergence of the Right to a dominant position in national politics and in the Republican Party in the 1980s was an uneven process."--Sylvie Murray, American Historical Review

"Critchlow's account is an important achievement. Copiously researched and beautifully written, it makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of recent American political history."--Kenneth Osgood, American Communist History

Product Details

  • Series: Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st Printing edition (September 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691070024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691070025
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,206,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Donald T. Critchlow, the ever-prolific professor of policy studies has performed a daunting task. In this book, he wrote a critical but balanced biography of Phyllis Schlafly.

Schlafly is the female new right activist who claims sole responsibility for defeating the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982. Previous biographies about her were blatantly partisan projects because their authors either attacked or fawned over their subject. The long-time far right activist engenders strong feelings among people familiar with her work; you either love or hate her.

Phyllis Schlafly first appeared in national politics in 1964. That year, she wrote `A choice: Not an echo' which tried to explain why Goldwater was the `sensible' choice. Yet, because Johnson then-rode public sympathy over the Kennedy assassination, he won a landslide and she temporarily receded from public view. After fallout with the National Federation of Republican Women, she formed her own women's organization, the Eagle Forum.

The Eagle Forum's veritable heyday came in the late 1970's/early 1980's when Schlafly came back onto the national stage. She became the New Right's favorite speaker against feminism/`Women's Lib'. Although Schlafly herself was a Harvard-trained lawyer and accomplished political activist, she instead emphasized that she was `just a housewife' who genuinely enjoyed mothering six kids. Schlafly consequently allowed the male conservatives to oppose ERA ratification efforts without themselves appearing sexist; `They' also supported women participating in politics.

This woman speaking out against women's liberation also made for effective media coverage because it exposed political divisions among women themselves.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The effect Planned Parenthood on society. April 26, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Our church conducted a spirituality conference for men; I was really impressed by the participation, especially that of the young men. They have a deep faith in the church and their participation validated that. Many young men have a genuine religious commitment to their marriages. One participant referenced this book PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY AND GRASSROOTS CONSERVATISM.
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17 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Book on a Giant Figure in American Politics October 26, 2005
By J. Bean
Format:Hardcover
Finally, Phyllis Schlafly gets her scholarly due. While historians have focused on the periphery of politics -- dwelling into ever narrow corners and cracks of the American Left -- Phyllis Schlafly has had no honest assessment. Plenty of dishonest, superficial assessment based on hand-me-down "that terrible woman" stories, but little more. (...).

Professor Critchlow is the dean of U.S. policy historians and he has taken a brave step tackling a figure so unpopular among academics. Then again, I am reminded of that member of the chattering classes who said, "I can't believe Nixon won , I don't know a single person who voted for him!" Critchlow batters that academic insularity to explain how and why Schlafly's message spawned "grassroots conservatism." Let's hope some who would rather not hear, do listen.

The alternative offered by Critchlow's study is, to take a quote from one of her best-selling titles,

"A Choice, Not an Echo" of the silly things constantly said
about her and other movement conservatives.

Wake up historians (left or right), you have nothing to lose but your ignorance!

Jonathan Bean
Southern Illinois University
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10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Donald T. Critchlow has written a timely and much needed examination of the rise of conservatism in American political culture through the life of Phyllis Schlafly. For too long Schlafly's importance has been obfuscated by historians intent on discrediting her rather than noting her importance. Critchlow fills this gap. He brings to life Schlafly's political career beginning in the anticommunist fervor of the 1950s to her role in shaping Republican defense policy during the 1970s to the fight over the ERA. He also includes an important assessment of Schlafly's present political activities.

Based on extensive archival research from various libraries and institutions, Critchlow's examination of Schlafly deserves the attention it has already received by the academic community and the press, including such publications as the New Yorker. This prestigious magazine included Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism as one of its fall book selections, which testifies to the book's important insights and balanced interpretation.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If it makes the libs mad, go for it! October 18, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's told in a fluent and lively style, though a little shorter I wouldn't have minded. A collection of memorable dictums by P.S. like: "Morality without intelligence may be useless, but intelligence without morality is highly dangerous." In the next one just change 'communism' for any kind of anti-Americanism of today: "America cannot save the free world from communism until our leaders learn that a communist is a conspirator against Christianity and democracy."

P.S. is definitely a landmark in the journey of American conservatism. Not only did she stand her ground against blood-thirsty libs and violent pacifists, she did it with brilliance, panache, and great sense of humor. A natural leader of a lady. And she didn't "marry" any Republican President along the way. She pushed America's issues trusting the people would support her: the grassroots. And sure she knows how to mobilize them. The Right will be orphaned when she leaves the scene, totally in the hands of the new Inquisition at the Left.

There are many nuggets in this thick history book, i.e. Alan Alda's appearance before the Illinois state to testify on behalf of ERA (the movement that wanted to make men out of women, disposing women of their privileges). Asked if he support his two daughters being drafted during a war, he answered emphatically "Yes", but added that his daughters would not enter the military even if drafted because they were pacifists, conscientious objectors. Great, just great, Mr Alda.
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