The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer President Tom Schlafly
My mother, Adelaide Mahaffey Schlafly, was born on July 19, 1915, five years before the first presidential election in which women were allowed to vote. Thirty-three years later, in 1948, it wasn’t a legal prohibition that prevented her from voting in the presidential election, but rather yours truly. How did I do that? By being born. I was born five days before the election at a time when women were typically kept in the hospital for a week or longer after giving birth. Because I arrived ahead of schedule, it hadn’t occurred to her to request an absentee ballot. This was the first time I caused her inconvenience… apart from her having been pregnant with me during a St. Louis summer when air conditioning was virtually non-existent.
I inconvenienced her again when I was in first grade and received a D in reading on my first report card. She was 39 years old at the time and was enrolled at St. Louis University on her way to graduating magna cum laude two years later. Instead of complaining that my elementary school wasn’t doing a good job, my mother took time away from her own studies and taught me to read. Who knows? If it hadn’t been for me she might have graduated summa cum laude.
My mother’s strategy for getting me interested in reading included steering me towards books about mischievous boys with whom she thought I could identify. She exposed me to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; to Booth Tarkington’s stories about Penrod Schofield and his sidekick Sam Williams; and later on to the mythical German prankster Till Eulenspiegel. I learned to enjoy reading so much that I majored in English in college. I also learned to admire protagonists who didn’t always follow the rules.
My mother taught me by example that there are some societal rules that should not be followed, at least not when they’re unjust. She was a determined champion of racial equality and campaigned tirelessly for civil rights legislation in Missouri. She was proud of the fact that Missouri, a former slave state, had passed a law barring discrimination in public accommodations before the enactment of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
While my mother sought to serve the community by promoting education and social justice, I sought to do so by brewing beer. As dissimilar as these two pursuits might seem, I had in fact learned an important lesson from my mother that was determinative in Dan Kopman’s and my decision to start a brewery in St. Louis. When we opened for business in 1991 the conventional wisdom held that St. Louis would only support one brewery, and it wasn’t named Schlafly. St. Louisans’ opinions about beer were just as ingrained as the societal norms with respect to race that my mother had successfully challenged years earlier. Without suggesting any kind of moral equivalence between attitudes about beer and racial prejudice, I would simply note that I learned from my mother’s example that the status quo can be challenged and changed.
Reflecting on our different approaches to bettering society, I’m reminded of the song by the country singer Johnny Paycheck, “I’m the only hell my mama ever raised.” Had she ever taken issue with my thesis that breweries are as essential as schools—as a doting mother she of course never seriously disapproved of what I was doing—I would have pointed out that it was all her fault for introducing me to literary role models of misbehavior at such an impressionable age. I was simply emulating the behavior of the characters in the books she had put in my hands.
There was one memorable time a few years ago when my mother did in fact raise hell with me. Appropriately enough it was over a question of civil rights. She called me at my law office to demand that I file a lawsuit against the state of Missouri to remedy a severe infringement of human rights… her own. As she explained her plight, the Missouri Department of Revenue was denying her the right to drive an automobile, just as the Taliban deprived women of the right to drive.
I patiently tried to explain why I couldn’t file the lawsuit and why the state of Missouri would undoubtedly win if we did sue. She was unconvinced. She had spent a lifetime fighting unjust laws, and any laws that prevented her from driving could also be overturned. I eventually ended the conversation by telling her I would do some research and get back to her. I did not tell her that I had actually collaborated with the state in taking away her driving privileges for her own safety, for the safety of others, and for my own peace of mind.
My mother died peacefully at home on September 30th at the age of 97. I included the story about taking away her driver’s license in my remarks at her memorial Mass four days later. As I said in these remarks, if Adelaide Mahaffey Schlafly had lived in a society controlled by the Taliban, women would most definitely be able to drive legally in such a society. They would also have the right to vote.