Real St. Louisans, people with roots here along the great river, either loved or loathed Phyllis Schlafly. But all would agree on one critical point: She wasn’t a Schlafly.
The former Miss Phyllis McAlpin Stewart was married to a Schlafly. Her husband, the late J. Fred Schlafly, was the lawyer scion of a Swiss-German Catholic family prominent in business, law and civic affairs. It may come as a big surprise to the national audience, but here the Schlafly family is just as prominent in liberal Democratic politics as in the conservative Republican variety.
My politically active parents were friends of both Phyllis and her never-married sister-in-law, Eleanor — a natural-born Schlafly. Both were staunch anti-communists. After the suppressed Hungarian uprising against Soviet Communism in 1956, Eleanor adopted the cause of the brave patriot and church leader, Cardinal József Mindszenty. Much of my early political education, when I was a young child, was literally at the feet of my mother and her friends Eleanor and Phyllis Schlafly.
Eleanor Schlafly performed a tremendous role in the downfall of the Soviet Communist system in Russia and East-Central Europe. The Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, which she founded and led, kept Americans informed about the situation behind the Iron Curtain during decades when many had resigned themselves to the permanence of the Soviet Empire and turned their attention elsewhere.
Like her more famous sister-in-law, Eleanor Schlafly is one of the leaders without whom Ronald Reagan might never have won the White House; without whom the Iron Curtain might still be standing.
While Eleanor Schlafly distinguished herself for tireless leadership against the injustice of international Communism, her brother, the late Daniel Schlafly, was an early and constant leader in the struggle against our domestic social cancer, racism.
Before Harper Lee ever set pen to paper, St. Louisans of the 1950s and 1960s had our own real-life Atticus Finch — Daniel Schlafly. The patrician lawyer was head of the public school board in the city of St. Louis from the early 1950s, when its population was more than 800,000 (today it is barely 300,000). He defied racist antagonism to push for desegregation of the schools.
It’s a shortcut to call Daniel Schlafly a John F. Kennedy-era Catholic liberal Democrat, but that misses the mark. He had far more gravitas than any Kennedy. It would be right to describe him as an “agent of change.” After his service on the city school board, the Jesuits at Saint Louis University asked him to lead a transition as the first non-clergyman to head the university’s board of trustees.
Daniel Schlafly was an earnest, upright social-justice Catholic Democrat of an era that thankfully never knew the likes of Joe Biden and Tim Kaine. With good reason, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1997 eulogized him as “a man whose life was distinguished by an intuitive understanding of the concept of noblesse oblige.”
Like his late father, Daniel Schlafly’s son Thomas is a lawyer, a Democrat, a corporate director and civic leader; his effort in restoring the splendid St. Louis Central Library is in the family tradition. Most famously, Tom Schlafly has made his mark as an entrepreneur who transformed the face of the city’s signature industry.
Before Tom Schlafly entered the scene, the south St. Louis skyline and the liquid refreshment menus of the whole metropolis were dominated by a monolith known by locals simply as “The Brewery.” Every commute home from downtown was overflown by the massive neon Anheuser-Busch eagle. The Brewery owned our cherished St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Club, and the staple liquid fare at Busch Stadium was Budweiser and Busch Beer.
August Anheuser “Gussie” Busch Jr.’s Grant’s Farm compound south of the city was a landlocked Hyannisport, and the Busches were our Teutonic Kennedys.
In 1989, the same year that Gussie Busch passed away, Tom Schlafly opened a restaurant and microbrewery in downtown St. Louis.
The Brewery was not happy with microbrew competition. To preempt possible legal challenges to his enterprise, Tom Schlafly sought and won bipartisan legislation in the Missouri Capitol. The new law clarified that a microbrewery was indeed a legal enterprise in the Show-Me State.
Today, taverns by the hundreds in every St. Louis neighborhood are lit with “SCHLAFLY” neon signs. Schlafly Beer flows at Busch Stadium. Anheuser-Busch is now a subsidiary of a Belgian-Brazilian behemoth called InBev. The largest locally owned beer manufacturer is Schlafly — no longer a microbrewery. New microbreweries abound in St. Louis, making great beer, challenging the now omnipresent Schlafly brand.
As a St. Louisan I’ve learned that to be a Schlafly means never to be wishy-washy.
I’m a conservative who admires the conservative Schlaflys and the liberal Democrat Schlaflys, too. What’s not to like about a family that leads victories against both Jim Crow and the Soviet Empire, not to mention tasteless beer?
It’s regrettable that Phyllis veered off onto the anti-immigration fringe. Nationalism is not conservatism.
But her lasting contribution to the nation was with the effort for pro-life and pro-family policies during the 1970s and 1980s. These will be vindicated someday as perennial moral common sense.
Cicero was a controversial, often self-righteous personality in his day. But the Natural Law doctrines he propounded became a foundation for human rights and the rule of law — indeed for Western Civilization itself.
Whatever Phyllis Schlafly’s excesses, the great Natural Law tradition was at the core of her efforts on the fundamental issues of family and the right to life from conception to natural death. That’s enough to merit her distaff connection to our eminent local family of lawyers, social crusaders, and thirst-quenchers.