Meet Maggie Gallagher

Salon has a long profile of the woman who is one of the most vocal proponents of traditional marriage, and how she got to be where she is today:

In September 1978, Yale freshmen would not have voted Maggie Gallagher the member of the Class of 1982 most likely to get pregnant before graduation. Gallagher was the third of four children from a close family in Portland, Ore. When she was young, her parents, a financial planner and a housewife, had been active in their local Catholic parish, and Gallagher and her siblings spent some years in Catholic elementary school. As Gallagher got older, her parents began to drift away from the church, and Gallagher’s mother became something of a spiritual seeker (“She once took me to an Up With People concert,” Gallagher now recalls, ruefully.) But Gallagher herself moved to the right in high school. Like many precocious girls, she fell for Ayn Rand’s novels, including “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” and for Objectivism, Rand’s capitalist, acquisitive philosophy. (Gallagher’s other formative influence was the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein.) When she got to Yale, she only gingerly embraced the secular mores, the drinking and the drugs and the hookup culture, that defined life on liberal campuses in the late 1970s. She tried marijuana once and did not like it. She smoked cigarettes but, afraid of becoming addicted, never inhaled.

Gallagher’s earliest acquaintances at Yale remember a somewhat sheltered young woman, polite and likable, a bit startled by what she saw. One of the freshmen who shared Gallagher’s suite of rooms, Bird Jensen, now a musician in Australia, remembers Gallagher as “a born-again Christian” — which Gallagher was not, but the mistake is telling. She remembers Gallagher, who after all was from a progressive, metropolitan area, as if she were from a small town in the middle of the plains. “It was very different for her to have Jewish people celebrating Shabbat, or have a bunch of hippies strumming guitar, or punk people playing music in our room,” Jensen says. “That was all very new to her. But Maggie was friendly. She had strong views on things, but we all got along.” Another freshman suitemate, Faith Stevelman, now a professor at New York Law School, remembers Gallagher as intellectually provocative — “She was introducing me to ideas nobody else would introduce me to” — but a bit of a killjoy. “I think she was somewhat socially immature.” Although Gallagher recalls being totally happy to be at Yale — “It was the first time in my life I was surrounded by many intellectuals,” she says — Stevelman remembers a young woman who stiffened at everything risky about college in the 1970s: sex, drugs, radical politics. “She was not easygoing,” Stevelman says of her suitemate. “She wasn’t what you would call a fun roommate.”

As a freshman, Gallagher joined the Party of the Right, a debating society affiliated with the Yale Political Union. The YPU is a very large campus organization, with hundreds of members, whose main activity is to bring speakers to campus several times a month. But it is organized into “parties,” smaller clubs that meet for meals, pub nights and informal debates. Each party has its own flavor, political and cultural. The Tory Party is right-of-center and high Anglophile (the men wear tweed, the women plan to take their future husbands’ last names); the Liberal Party is left-of-center, earnest and wonkish. The Party of the Right has the deepest culture of the half-dozen or so parties. Its membership is diverse, comprising libertarians and monarchists, Catholic traditionalists and Objectivists, monetarists and distributivists. But they share a passionate, if often pretentious, reverence for the life of the mind. Members of the Party of the Right often major in philosophy, and they prefer debating questions about God or the Good to mundane matters of policy.

The party’s intentional eccentricity — when I was at Yale, in the 1990s, several Party of the Right men affected hats and trench coats — helps explain its reputation for cultishness. For many members, the party becomes their entire social world, and so it is not surprising that party romances are common. As a senior, Gallagher began seeing a fellow party member, a sophomore who wrote conservative editorials for a campus magazine and dreamed of being a doctor.

Today, they have different memories of the relationship — how long they had been dating, how close they were — but on one fact they agree: 30 years ago this spring, months before she was supposed to graduate, Gallagher discovered she was pregnant.

Read more.


  1. I worked with Maggie several years ago on a project unrelated to her pro-traditional-marriage crusade, and from my experience Mark Oppenheimer’s portrait of her is spot on. We were as far apart at that time as any two people could be, religiously, politically, ideologically, but she always listened to my point of view with more dispassionate courtesy and far less judgment than I could muster for hers. The separate-but-equal dimensions of wounded emotion and pure thought that Oppenheimer notes as Maggie’s twin engines are very obvious when working with her. I was not aware of the circumstances of her personal life, but they make sense. I always thought, somehow, that she came from a place of deep loneliness.

  2. That’s a very odd article. The reporter almost seems to have thought that, if enough Yalies were contacted, Gallagher’s story would be contradicted. But it turns out that her story is absolutely true, so the reporter tries to make her sound like she was an unfun nerd, instead.

    Sigh. How hard it must have been, to try and get an education at Yale, while everybody else was doing sex, drugs, and radical politics. And then, when she does fall for one of the above, of course she gets mistreated. A non-traditional society is absolutely unforgiving.

    But having the gumption to keep going for her baby — that’s a wisdom that too many “smart” women of the time lacked. I notice that Gallagher’s first book is supposed to be full of astonishing bitterness, which is a bad thing in her writing, even though pretty much all the famous feminist tomes of the time (and before) were much bitterer. One has only to consider the feminist sword and sorcery trope of the heroine’s picaresque adventures repeatedly beginning with being raped, and then following up with killing endless troupes of the rapists, to see that Gallagher is relatively low on the Seventies bitter scale. I suppose that her sin is to be mad at specific feminist magazine editorial boards instead of faceless chauvinists.

    I think the reporter thought her biography was embarrassing. But really, it’s a glorious tale of a fighter unbowed by a few scars.

  3. pagansister says:

    She maybe a strong proponent of “traditional marriage” but so far it seems that hasn’t happened for her. Long article. Also she isn’t the first woman to be a single mother and make it in life.

  4. Considering the source I actually thought the article was more balanced than I expected. I worked on her Wikipedia article and I can tell you that many, maybe most, on the Left really hate her in a very intense manner. I didn’t look through the comments much but I imagine there’s bound to be someone who felt he was “too soft on her.”

    The article is clear on thinking she’s wrong, and odd, but does show moments of sympathy. She’s a single-mom who made it and even if her marriage is difficult it’s still together. She’s not as religious as people think, which in a magazine like this is possibly meant as a bit of a compliment, and doesn’t outright hate gay people. She has people whose lives she made better.

    I didn’t know she was once a Randian atheist though. As she said it it’s not his opinion of her.

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