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Adelaide Mahaffey Schlafly

Mrs. Daniel L. Schlafly (Adelaide Mahaffey) died peacefully on September 30, 2012, at her home in St. Louis.

Born on July 19, 1915, she was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Birch Oliver Mahaffey (Laura McBride). Her mother was the daughter of William C. McBride, a successful oilman who had moved the headquarters of his business from Washington, PA, to St. Louis in 1908. Her father, who had attended West Point, had been stationed in Hawaii as a captain in the United States Army. With the outbreak of the First World War in Europe, Captain Mahaffey came back to St. Louis to run the McBride oil business, which was regarded as essential to the war effort. 

Adelaide Mahaffey attended several schools in St. Louis as well as boarding schools in the United States and Europe. She said the most formative year in her education was the academic year 1935-36, which she spent at Villa Collina Ridente, an international school in Florence. The school was established by a former Red Cross nurse who had witnessed the horrors of the First World War and hoped to promote international understanding by bringing together young women from different cultures. One of her classmates at the school was Princess Frederica of Hanover, Great Britain and Ireland, who later became the Queen of Greece.

During this time Adelaide and her classmates witnessed the rise of Fascism at first hand and had an audience with the dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome. They observed the jingoism that accompanied Italy’s war in Ethiopia. They visited the League of Nations, where they heard British Prime Minister Anthony Eden speak. While visiting Frederica’s family at Schloss Marienburg, Adelaide met the Nazi diplomat Joachim von Ribbentrop. After returning to St. Louis, Adelaide corresponded with Frederica and at one point received a nine-page letter that included an eyewitness account of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and several paragraphs about Frederica’s intention to break off a courtship with Paul, the future King of Greece whom she soon married. In addition to the personal friendships she established with women from different cultures, this year enhanced Adelaide’s awareness of the need for diplomatic solutions to the world’s problems and helped inspire her later involvement with organizations supporting the United Nations.

Adelaide married Daniel Lyons Schlafly in the St. Louis Cathedral on December 2, 1939. In a toast at the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary she noted that they had announced their engagement on September 2, 1939, when the Second World War started and Europe was torn apart; now, a half-century later, they were celebrating their golden anniversary weeks after the Berlin Wall came down and Europe was finally coming back together.

Daniel Schlafly spent much of the war as the commander of an Army motor pool in New Caledonia. By the end of the war he was a battalion commander with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Adelaide, meanwhile, was raising their two small children alone in St. Louis. He returned home in 1946; they bought a house in the neighborhood in which she had grown up; and Daniel went back to work with his father in a family business, Mountain Valley Mineral Water Company.

Following the birth of their third child, in her late 30s, Adelaide decided to go to college. As a mother of three small children, she did not match the profile of the typical undergraduate in the 1950s. Nevertheless, she enrolled at St. Louis University and graduated magna cum laude in 1956, one month before her 41st birthday.

While she was at St. Louis University one of her professors helped open her eyes to issues of social justice, particularly with respect to racial inequality and the plight of disadvantaged members of society. At the time, her husband Daniel was serving on the St. Louis Board of Education, which was dominated by politicians who were more interested in lining their own pockets and in helping out their cronies than they were in educating the children of St. Louis. He had been elected to the board as a reformer committed to rooting out corruption. In the process of fulfilling this commitment he made a lot of enemies.

When he ran for re-election to the board in 1959 the political bosses in St. Louis were unified in their opposition. But, even though the political machine was against him, he had something more powerful going for him. His wife, Adelaide, was in charge of his campaign. She personally recruited a thousand volunteers on his behalf. Adelaide and her army of volunteers not only helped re-elect her husband to the board; they also helped elect another reformer, John Hicks, whose election was historic in its own right. Reverend Hicks was the first African-American ever elected to a citywide office of any kind in the City of St. Louis.

Adelaide Schlafly recognized that the problems of racial discrimination could not be solved by focusing solely on the City of St. Louis, but needed to be addressed on a statewide basis. She also recognized that attitudes about race in St. Louis were more enlightened than in the rest of Missouri. Missouri had been a slave state throughout the Civil War. Racially segregated schools had been enshrined in the state’s constitution and Missouri was among the states that outlawed interracial marriage. In fact, the Missouri General Assembly had recently expanded the scope of its anti-miscegenation law to forbid marriages between whites and so-called “Mongolians.”

Adelaide and her allies were not deterred. They made repeated trips to the state capital, Jefferson City, urging the General Assembly to enact legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of race in public accommodations—places such as restaurants, hotels, theatres, and stores. Given the racial climate at the time, it’s not surprising that they encountered staunch resistance. She spoke of a legislator from southeast Missouri who argued against the bill, saying, “In my part of the state we have a saying that you never see a white bird and a black bird sitting next to one another on a fence.” This man was later elected governor of Missouri.

Despite the hostility Adelaide and her colleagues faced in Jefferson City, they ultimately prevailed. She was proud that Missouri, a former slave state, had adopted a public accommodations law before the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition to being a crusader for social justice, Adelaide Schlafly was also a capable businesswoman, serving as vice-president of W. C. McBride, Inc., which had been founded by her grandfather. In 1975 the company merged with the One William Street Fund, a mutual fund managed by Lehman Brothers. She served for 15 years on the One William Street board of directors during a time when there were very few women directors on Wall Street.

Mrs. Schlafly cared deeply about the less fortunate members of society and fought passionately for equal justice for all. There was one occasion late in her life, however, when her passions were inflamed by a perceived denial of her own civil rights. She telephoned her son Tom, a lawyer in St. Louis, and said she wanted him to file a lawsuit against the state of Missouri, which had taken away her driver’s license. As she explained to Tom, just as the Taliban deprived women of the right to drive, the state of Missouri was committing a similar injustice against her. Tom, who had secretly collaborated with the state, declined to file the lawsuit.

Mrs. Schlafly donated her body to the St. Louis University Medical School. She had said she did not need a large tombstone as a memorial. She liked the idea that skills learned as a result of her donation would be applied by doctors treating patients well into the second half of the 21st century.

A memorial Mass was celebrated for Mrs. Schlafly on October 4, 2012, in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, where she and Daniel had been married, and where her grandfather had donated the baldacchino over the high altar. Over 500 people were in attendance. A reception for friends and family was held after the Mass at the St. Louis Country Club.

She was predeceased by her husband, Daniel, and by her sisters Katherine Mahaffey Walsh and Elizabeth Mahaffey Mullins. She is survived by her sons, Daniel L. Schlafly Jr. and Thomas F. Schlafly, both of St. Louis; her daughter, Mrs. Robert L. Shafer (Ellen Schlafly) of New York; her sister Mrs. Walter L. Moore (Dorothy Mahaffey) of Weldon Spring, MO; six grandchildren; and seven great- grandchildren.

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