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Rosalie Silberman, 69; conservative activist

WASHINGTON -- Rosalie Gaull "Ricky" Silberman, a conservative activist whose outspoken public support of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas led to the formation of the Independent Women's Forum, died at Georgetown University Hospital on Sunday of complications from breast cancer. She was 69.

The forum had its origins in 1991-92, when Mrs. Silberman and two friends, Barbara Ledeen and Anita Blair, started an informal network of women who supported the Thomas nomination despite allegations of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, a former colleague at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Mrs. Silberman also had worked with Thomas at the commission and was a close friend. During his contentious confirmation, she spoke out on his behalf and helped edit "The Real Anita Hill," a book by David Brock that savaged Hill and portrayed her charges as a political dirty trick.

The idea for the Independent Women's Forum was to provide a conservative alternative to feminist tenets. After Thomas's confirmation, the group continued as a prominent voice for conservative women, taking strong stands in the media and bringing together conservative scholars, activists, and political figures.

Michelle Bernard, the forum's president and chief executive officer, credited Mrs. Silberman with exposing "the fallacies and hypocrisies of radical political interest group feminism."

Born in Jackson, Mich., she graduated with a degree in government, with honors, from Smith College in 1958. She met her future husband, Laurence Silberman, at a college mixer in 1955 during summer school at Harvard. He recalled that he knew immediately he would marry the charming and lively young woman.

Silberman said that his wife, like many young women in the 1950s, went to college expecting to get "an Mrs. degree." She raised three children while the Silberman family lived in Hawaii during the 1960s, but she also worked as a teacher before getting involved in politics and public affairs.

President Nixon appointed her to the Presidential Commission for the Education of Disadvantaged Children, and she also worked as a press secretary for US Senator Robert Packwood, Republican of Oregon. When the Silbermans moved to San Francisco in 1979, she did development work for the San Francisco Conservatory.

In 1984, President Reagan appointed her to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she served until 1995. From 1995 to 2000, she was executive director of the Office of Congressional Compliance, an independent authority established to oversee a new law requiring Congress to abide by many of the same workplace regulations that covered the rest of the nation.

In 2001, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appointed her to the Defense Department Advisory Commission on the Status of Women. She was an Independent Women's Forum board member and chairwoman emeritus until her death.

Mrs. Silberman leaves her husband of 49 years, of Washington; three children, Robert of Potomac, Md., Katherine Balaban of Bethesda, Md., and Anne Otis of Hartford; and eight grandchildren.