The True Story Behind Mrs. America: 10 Facts About Phyllis Schlafly

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly in Mrs. America.
Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly in Mrs. America.
Sabrina Lantos/FX

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

So reads section one of a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Known as the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, it passed through congress on March 22, 1972. Enter Phyllis Schlafly: the conservative lawyer and mother of six whose grassroots campaign to thwart the ERA is the subject of the new Hulu/FX miniseries Mrs. America, starring Cate Blanchett.

Schlafly, who passed away in 2016 at age 92, is best remembered for her stand against the amendment. But her political rise neither began nor ended with the ERA fight. Here are some facts about the real woman behind Mrs. America.

1. Phyllis Schlafly tested ammunition to pay her way through college.

Phyllis Schlafly was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 15, 1924. She earned a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis in 1944, graduating with full Phi Beta Kappa honors. To finance this stage of her education, Schlafly landed a job at the St. Louis Ordnance Plant, where she was paid $1250 per year to evaluate ammo by shooting machine guns and rifles. No stranger to graveyard shifts, she’d often punch in at midnight and stay on the clock until 8 a.m.

2. Phyllis Schlafly ran for congress—twice.

Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum, waits to speak during the Family Research Council's 2007 Washington briefing October 19, 2007 in Washington, DC
Phyllis Schlafly prepares to speak during the Family Research Council's 2007 Washington briefing.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Phyllis Schlafly's 1952 bid to represent Illinois's 24th congressional district fell short; she ran as a Republican in an area that leaned Democratic and lost to Charles Melvin Price, an incumbent who ultimately served on Capitol Hill for more than 40 years. Schlafly tried again in 1970, this time for Illinois's 23rd congressional district, squaring off against George E. Shipley, who publicly suggested that Schlafly would be better off staying "at home with her husband and six kids.” Once again, Schlafly was defeated.

3. Phyllis Schlafly’s self-published book, A Choice Not An Echo, helped Barry Goldwater clinch the GOP’s presidential nomination in 1964.

Released in May of 1964, A Choice Not an Echo lambasted “secret kingmakers” and the “eastern establishment,” which allegedly controlled the era’s Republican Party. In it, Schlafly made the case for Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona as he sought the party’s 1964 presidential nod. The book sold 3 million copies, several of which were handed out to the delegates at the 1964 Republican National Convention. Goldwater became the GOP nominee, but incumbent Lyndon Johnson trounced him during the general election.

4. Phyllis Schlafly wrote more than two dozen books.

Schlafly never stopped writing; altogether, she was the author, co-author, and/or editor of a total of 27 books. Her final book, The Conservative Case For Trump, was published on September 6, 2016—the day after she died. (Ed Martin and Brett M. Decker co-authored the text.)

5. Phyllis Schlafly played a crucial role in stopping the ERA.

American political activist Phyllis Schlafly smiles from behind a pair of podium mounted microphones, 1982
Political activist Phyllis Schlafly in 1982.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Upon approving the ERA, congress set a deadline: for the amendment to succeed, at least 38 state legislatures would need to ratify it by the year 1979. Historians credit Schlafly, and a movement she organized, with killing its momentum. Describing the ERA as “an attack on the rights of the wife,” Schlafly believed the amendment threatened traditional gender roles. She also claimed it would promote abortion and same-sex marriage while forcing women to participate in military drafts.

In 1972, Schlafly launched the nationwide STOP ERA campaign. Although 35 legislatures had ratified the amendment by the spring of 1977, it never crossed the finish line. With Schlafly’s campaign gaining speed, the ERA failed to meet its original ratification deadline. Congress then intervened, setting a new deadline for 1982. Even so, advocates were unable to get the necessary support in time.

6. When Phyllis Schlafly took the Illinois bar exam in 1978, she wore a disguise.

Schlafly received a law degree from the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law in 1978, when she was 53 years old. “My children didn’t want me to take the bar exam because they were afraid that if I failed, like Ted Kennedy, it would be on the front page,” Schlafly told NPR’s Michael Martin. “So I wore [a] black wig and went up and nobody recognized me on the first day. But the second day of the exam, when I left, I walked right into the arms of a Chicago Tribune photographer and reporter.” Even so, she passed.

7. For decades, Phyllis Schlafly’s voice was a familiar one on American radio.

Often referred to as the “Sweetheart of the Silent Majority” and “First Lady of the Conservative Movement,” Schlafly established a multi-issue interest group called the Eagle Forum in 1972. According to their website, she recorded “about 8000” three-minute opinion pieces, which aired on 600 radio stations. In addition, Schlafly was a syndicated newspaper columnist who frequently appeared on CBS News and CNN as a commentator.

8. Phyllis Schlafly’s debates with feminist Betty Friedan could get pretty heated.

Famed feminist Betty Friedan was the author of The Feminine Mystique and founder of America’s “second-wave feminism” movement. At public debates, she frequently clashed with Schlafly. Their most famous interaction came in 1973, when Friedan told Schlafly “I’d like to burn you at the stake.” Writing in her 1981 book The Second Stage, Friedan said “Phyllis Schlafly is herself taking advantage of the equal opportunity she says other women don’t need, getting her law degree at a prestigious university which never would have admitted a middle-aged woman like herself before the women’s movement.”

9. Phyllis Schlafly promoted anticommunist study groups.

American political activist Phyllis Schlafly delivers a statement to the press following the US Supreme Court's decision in 'Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833,' Washington DC, June 29, 1992
Phyllis Schlafly delivers a statement to the press in 1992.
CNP/Ron Sachs/Getty Images

Schlafly, a lifelong Catholic, co-created the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation (CMF) in 1958 as part of an effort to rally her faith community against communism. The group was named after József Mindszenty, a high-ranking figure in the Roman Catholic Church who’d been imprisoned by Hungary’s communist government. Schlafly penned the CMF’s newsletter and encouraged churches to use a 10-week anticommunist group study program she designed. “By 1962,” wrote Schlafly biographer Donald T. Critchlow, “the Foundation claimed to be sponsoring more than 3000 study groups in 48 states, every Canadian province, Caribbean countries, and Mexico.”

10. Phyllis Schlafly owned a framed piece of the Berlin Wall.

Schlafly kept the historic keepsake on display in her office, along with a 1970 Doonesbury cartoon which criticized her.

13 Father's Day Gifts for Geeky Dads

Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk
Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk

When in doubt, you play the hits. Watches, flasks, and ties are all tried-and-true Father’s Day gifts—useful items bought en masse every June as the paternal holiday draws near. Here’s a list of goodies that put a geeky spin on those can’t-fail gifts. We’re talking Zelda flasks, wizard-shaped party mugs, and a timepiece inspired by BBC’s greatest sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Light the “dad” signal ‘cause it’s about to get nerdy!

1. Lord of the Rings Geeki Tikis (Set of Three); $76

'Lord of The Rings' themed tiki cups.
Toynk

If your dad’s equally crazy about outdoor shindigs and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, help him throw his own Lothlórien luau with these Tiki-style ceramic mugs shaped like icons from the Lord of the Rings saga. Gollum and Frodo’s drinkware doppelgängers each hold 14 ounces of liquid, while Gandalf the Grey’s holds 18—but a wizard never brags, right? Star Wars editions are also available.

Buy it: Toynk

2. Space Invaders Cufflinks; $9

'Space Invaders' cufflinks on Amazon
Fifty 50/Amazon

Arcade games come and arcade games go, but Space Invaders has withstood the test of time. Now Pops can bring those pixelated aliens to the boardroom—and look darn stylish doing it.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Legend of Zelda Flask; $18

A 'Legend of Zelda' flask
Toynk

Saving princesses is thirsty work. Shaped like an NES cartridge, this Zelda-themed flask boasts an 8-ounce holding capacity and comes with a reusable straw. Plus, it makes a fun little display item for gamer dads with man caves.

Buy it: Toynk

4. AT-AT Family Vacation Bag Tag; $12

An At-At baggage tag
ShopDisney

Widely considered one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, The Empire Strikes Back throws a powerful new threat at Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion: the AT-AT a.k.a. Imperial Walkers. Now your dad can mark his luggage with a personalized tag bearing the war machine’s likeness.

Buy it: ShopDisney

5. Flash Skinny Tie; $17

A skinny Flash-themed tie
Uyoung/Amazon

We’ll let you know if the Justice League starts selling new memberships, but here’s the next best thing. Available in a rainbow of super-heroic colors, this skinny necktie bears the Flash’s lightning bolt logo. Race on over to Amazon and pick one up today.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Captain America Shield Apron; $20

A Captain America themed apron
Toynk

Why let DC fans have all the fun? Daddy-o can channel his inner Steve Rogers when he flips burgers at your family’s Fourth of July BBQ. Measuring 31.5 inches long by 27.5 inches wide, this apron’s guaranteed to keep the cookout Hydra-free.

Buy it: Toynk

7. Doctor Who Vortex Manipulator LCD Leather Wristwatch; $35

A Doctor Who-themed watch
Toynk

At once classy and geeky, this digital timepiece lovingly recreates one of Doctor Who’s signature props. Unlike some of the gadgets worn on the long-running sci-fi series, it won’t require any fancy chronoplasm fuel.

Buy it: Toynk

8. Wonder Woman 3-Piece Grill Set; $21

Wonder Woman three-piece gill set
Toynk

At one point in her decades-long comic book career, this Amazon Princess found herself working at a fast food restaurant called Taco Whiz. Now grill cooks can pay tribute to the heroine with these high-quality, stainless steel utensils. The set’s comprised of wide-tipped tongs, a BBQ fork, and a spatula, with the latter boasting Wonder Woman’s insignia.

Buy it: Toynk

9. Harry Potter Toon Tumbler; $10

Glassware that's Harry Potter themed
Entertainment Earth

You can never have too many pint glasses—and this Father’s Day, dad can knock one back for the boy who lived. This piece of Potter glassware from PopFun has whimsy to spare. Now who’s up for some butterbeer?

Buy it: EntertainmentEarth

10. House Stark Men’s Wallet; $16

A Game of Thrones themed watch
Toynk

Winter’s no longer coming, but the Stark family's propensity for bold fashion choices can never die. Manufactured with both inside and outside pockets, this direwolf-inspired wallet is the perfect place to store your cards, cash, and ID.

Buy it: Toynk

11. Mr. Incredible “Incredible Dad” Mug, $15

An Incredibles themed mug
ShopDisney

Cue the brass music. Grabbing some coffee with a Pixar superhero sounds like an awesome—or dare we say, incredible?—way for your dad to start his day. Mom can join in the fun, too: Disney also sells a Mrs. Incredible version of the mug.

Buy it: ShopDisney

12. Star Wars phone cases from Otterbox; $46-$56

Star Wars phone cases from OtterBox.
Otterbox

If your dad’s looking for a phone case to show off his love of all things Star Wars, head to Otterbox. Whether he’s into the Dark Side with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the droids, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett, you’ll be able to find a phone case to fit his preference. The designs are available for both Samsung and Apple products, and you can check them all out here.

Buy it: Otterbox

13. 3D Puzzles; $50

3D Harry Potter puzzle from Amazon.
Wrebbit 3D

Help dad recreate some of his favorite fictional locations with these 3D puzzles from Wrebbit 3D. The real standouts are the 850-piece model of Hogwarts's Great Hall and the 910-piece version of Winterfell from Game of Thrones. If dad's tastes are more in line with public broadcasting, you could also pick him up an 890-piece Downton Abbey puzzle to bring a little upper-crust elegance to the homestead.

Buy it: Hogwarts (Amazon), Winterfell (Amazon), Downton Abbey (Amazon)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

8 Trade Routes That Shaped World History

Tourists on a camel caravan explore he dunes around the city of Dunhuang, along the ancient Silk Road.
Tourists on a camel caravan explore he dunes around the city of Dunhuang, along the ancient Silk Road.
Tiago_Fernandez/iStock via Getty Images

Trade routes have popped up throughout ancient history, stitching places of production to places of commerce. Scarce commodities that were only available in certain locations, such as salt or spices, were the biggest driver of trade networks, but once established, these roads also facilitated cultural exchanges—including the spread of religion, ideas, knowledge, and sometimes even bacteria.

1. The Silk Road

The Silk Road is the most famous ancient trade route, linking the major ancient civilizations of China and the Roman Empire. Silk was traded from China to the Roman Empire starting in the first century BCE, in exchange for wool, silver, and gold coming from Europe. In addition to fostering trade, the Silk Road also became a vital route for the spread of knowledge, technology, religion, and the arts, with many trading centers along the route, such as Samarkand in modern-day Uzbekistan, also becoming important centers of intellectual exchange.

The Silk Road originated in Xi’an, China, and travelled alongside the Great Wall of China before crossing the Pamir Mountains into Afghanistan and on to the Levant, where goods were loaded on to ships destined for Mediterranean ports. It was rare for tradespeople to travel the full 4000 miles, so most plied their trade on sections of the route. As the Roman Empire crumbled in the fourth century CE, the Silk Road became unsafe and fell out of use until the 13th century, when it was revived under the Mongols. Italian explorer Marco Polo followed the Silk Road during the 13th century, becoming one of the first Europeans to visit China. But the famous route may have spread more than trade and cross-cultural links—some scientists think it was merchants traveling along the route who spread the plague bacteria that caused the Black Death.

2. The Spice Routes

Anonymous map c.1550 of Eastern Africa, Asia and Western Oceania.
Portugal had a significant presence in Asia and maintained a monopoly on the spice trade.

Unlike most of the other trade routes in this list, the Spice Routes were maritime paths linking the East to the West. Pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg were all hugely sought-after commodities in Europe, but before the 15th century, North African and Arab middlemen controlled access to trade with the East, making such spices extremely costly and rare. With the dawning of the Age of Exploration (15th to 17th centuries), as new navigation technology made sailing long distances possible, Europeans took to the seas to forge direct trading relationships with Indonesia, China, and Japan. Some have argued it was the spice trade that fueled the development of faster boats, encouraged the discovery of new lands, and fostered new diplomatic relationships between East and West (it was partly with spices in mind that Christopher Columbus set out on his famous voyage in 1492).

The Dutch and English especially profited from the control of the spice trade in modern-day Indonesia, particularly the area known as the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, which was the only source of nutmeg and cloves at that time. Wars were fought, lands colonized, and fortunes made on the back of the spice trade, making this trade route one of the most significant in terms of globalization.

3. The Incense Route

The Incense Route developed to transport frankincense and myrrh, which are only found in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula (modern Yemen and Oman). Frankincense and myrrh are both derived from tree sap that’s dried in the Sun; these nuggets of sap can then be burned as incense or used as perfume, and were also popular in burial rituals to aid embalming. The camel was domesticated around 1000 BCE and this development allowed the Arabs to begin transporting their valuable incense to the Mediterranean, an important trade hub. Frankincense and myrrh became a significant commodity for the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians—it was said the Roman emperor Nero had a whole year’s harvest of frankincense burned at the funeral of his beloved mistress.

The trade flourished, and the overland route was, at its height, said to have seen 3000 tons of incense traded along its length every year. Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote that it took 62 days to complete the route, although it’s clear that at times, the exact route shifted when greedy settlements pushed their luck and demanded taxes that were too high from the caravans coming through. By the first century CE, this ancient overland route was largely redundant, as improved boat design made sea routes more attractive.

4. The Amber Road

A piece of amber with insects inside it
A chunk of Baltic amber containing preserved insects.
Anders L. Damgaard, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Amber has been traded since about 3000 BCE, with archaeological evidence revealing amber beads from the Baltics having reached as far as Egypt. The Romans, who valued the stone for both decorative and medicinal purposes, developed an Amber Road linking the Baltics with the rest of Europe.

Large deposits of amber are found under the Baltic Sea, formed millions of years ago when forests covered the area. The amber washes ashore after storms, and can be harvested from the beaches across the Baltic, which is how many local amber traders built their business. However, during the crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Baltic became an important source of income for the Teutonic Knights, who were granted control of the amber-producing region. The Knights persecuted the local Prussians brutally, and put anyone attempting to harvest or sell amber to death. Today, you can find traces of the old Amber Road in Poland, where one of the major routes is known as the “Amber Highway.”

5. The Tea Horse Road

This ancient route winds precipitously for more than 6000 miles, through the Hengduan Mountains—a major tea-producing area in China—and on to Tibet and India. The road also crosses numerous rivers, making it one of the most dangerous of the ancient trade routes. The main goods traveling the route were Chinese tea and Tibetan warhorses, with direct trades of tea-for-horses and vice versa being the main goal of merchants plying the route. Parts of the route were used starting c.1600 BCE, but people began using the entire path for trade from around the seventh century CE, and large-scale trade began taking place starting in the Song dynasty (960–1279).

At least one piece of research suggests that between 960–1127, some 20,000 Tibetan warhorses were traded along the route every year in exchange for an eye-watering 8000 tons of tea. As sea routes became more popular, the road’s significance lessened. But during World War II, it once again gained importance as the Japanese blocked many seaports, and the Tea Horse Road became a key route for supplies traveling between inland China and India.

6. The Salt Route

salt pans in malta
Salt pans in Malta.
foursummers, pixabay // Public Domain

Salt has long been a precious commodity—it’s been used to flavor and preserve food, and as an antiseptic, for example. But easily harvested salt was a scarce commodity in antiquity, so areas rich in the mineral became important trading centers. Routes connecting these centers to other settlements also became commonplace. Of the many such routes that sprang up, one of the most famous was the Roman Via Salaria (Salt Route), which ran from Ostia, near Rome, across Italy to the Adriatic coast. Salt was so precious, it made up a portion of a Roman soldier’s pay. It is from this that we get the word salary (from sal, the Latin word for salt) and the phrase “not worth his salt”—the latter because a soldier’s salt pay was docked if he did not work hard.

Another important salt route across Europe was the Old Salt Road. This path ran 62 miles from Lüneburg in northern Germany, which was one of the most plentiful salt sources in northern Europe, to Lübeck on the north German coast. During the Middle Ages, this route became vital for providing salt for the fishing fleets that left Germany for Scandinavia, as the crews used salt to preserve the precious herring catch. It would take a cart delivering salt some 20 days to traverse the Old Salt Road, and many towns along the way grew wealthy by levying taxes and duties on wagons as they passed through.

7. The Trans-Saharan Trade Route

The Trans-Saharan Trade Route from North Africa to West Africa was actually made up of a number of routes, creating a criss-cross of trading links across the vast expanse of desert. These trade routes first emerged in the fourth century CE. By the 11th century, caravans composed of more than a thousand camels would carry goods across the Sahara. Gold, slaves, salt, and cloth were traded along the route, as were objects like ostrich feathers and European guns.

The trade route was instrumental in the spread of Islam from the Berbers in North Africa into West Africa, and with Islam came Arabic knowledge, education, and language. The Trans-Saharan trade route also encouraged the development of monetary systems and state-building, as local rulers saw the strategic value in bringing large swathes of land, and thus their commodities, under their control. By the 16th century, as Europeans began to see the value in African goods, the Trans-Saharan trade routes became overshadowed by the European-controlled trans-Atlantic trade, and the wealth moved from inland to coastal areas, making the perilous desert route less attractive.

8. The Tin Route

An abandoned tin mine in Cornwall, England.
An abandoned tin mine in Cornwall, England.
Edmund Shaw, Geograph // CC BY-SA 2.0

From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the Tin Route was a major artery that provided early settlements with access to a vital ingredient for metal-making: tin. Copper must be alloyed with tin to make bronze, an advance that occurred in the Near East around 2800 BCE and created a stronger, better metal than the type used previously. This new technology created a demand for tin, and as it is not found in many places, the resource became an important item for trade.

One such tin route flourished in the 1st millennium BCE. It stretched from the tin mines in Cornwall in the far southwest of Britain, over the sea to France, and then down to Greece and beyond. Evidence for this route is provided by the many hillforts that sprung up along the way as trading posts. Historians believe trade passed both ways up and down this route, as the hillforts provide evidence of exotic artifacts, including coral and gold. No written accounts survive from this period, but the archaeological record shows technology and art traveled the route between northern Europe and the Mediterranean alongside tin—thus providing a vital link across Europe.