Frances T. Farenthold, Liberal Force in Texas and Beyond, Dies at 94

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Known arsenic Sissy, she was an advocator for radical parity and women’s rights, and her sanction was placed successful information for the vice presidency successful 1972. Tragedy trailed her.

Frances T. Farenthold successful  1972. “Even by Texas standards, she is thing  big,” the Washington Post columnist David S. Broder wrote.
Credit...Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Shutterstock

Margalit Fox

Sept. 27, 2021, 1:41 p.m. ET

The twelvemonth was 1968, the spot Corpus Christi, Texas. The country was a triumph enactment for a Democratic candidate, elected to the Texas House of Representatives the nighttime before.

At the party, a antheral approached Frances T. Farenthold, a salient section resident.

“Mrs. Farenthold,” helium said, “I had the pleasance of voting for your hubby yesterday.”

“Thank you precise much,” she replied. “But I deliberation you’ll observe that you voted for me.”

“Well, hell,” the antheral said, “if I’d known that, I ne'er would person voted for you.”

Ms. Farenthold, a politician, feminist, lawyer and human-rights advocator who died astatine 94 on Sunday astatine her location successful Houston, became rather accustomed to incredulity connected her predetermination and agelong afterward during her half-century connected the nationalist stage.

The triumph that nighttime of Ms. Farenthold, wide known by the puerility nickname Sissy, had been nary tiny trick. On her election, she became the lone pistillate successful the 150-member chamber and one of conscionable 2 successful the Texas legislature. (The other, successful the State Senate, was the Democrat Barbara Jordan, the eloquent Black lawyer who went connected to service successful the United States House of Representatives from 1973 to 1979.)

Throughout her career, Ms. Farenthold met with casual condescension — the quality media perennially described her arsenic a parent of 4 — and overt discrimination: As a legislator she was unopen retired of committee meetings held astatine an all-male backstage nine successful Austin.

Yet during her 2 presumption successful the Texas House, from 1969 to 1973, she helped amended legislative transparency successful the aftermath of a authorities stock-fraud ungraded and spearheaded the transition of a authorities adjacent rights amendment.

She would gain renown acold beyond her state, becoming, The Texas Observer wrote successful 2007, “a near-cult awesome of the Texas that mightiness be.”

Ms. Farenthold was a two-time campaigner for the Texas governorship, the archetypal chairwoman of the National Women’s Political Caucus, a assemblage president and a nominee for the vice presidency of the United States a twelve years before Geraldine A. Ferraro became the archetypal to beryllium chosen for that bureau by a large party.

In 1975, a Newspaper Enterprise Association sheet named Ms. Farenthold 1 of the 50 astir influential women successful America, along with Coretta Scott King; Gloria Steinem; Katharine Graham, the steadfast of The Washington Post; and the congresswomen Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm.

“Even by Texas standards, she is thing big,” the Washington Post columnist David S. Broder wrote successful 1972.

Ms. Farenthold’s diagnostic self-confidence seemed calved of charmed circumstance: A kid of privilege, she was educated astatine an elite backstage precocious schoolhouse and an elite college; flourished successful instrumentality school, wherever she was 1 of 3 women successful a people of 800; successfully resumed her ineligible vocation aft rearing her children; and was agelong joined to a European nobleman.

But arsenic quality articles often noted, she besides exuded an aerial of sorrow. A “melancholy rebel,” the Texas journalist Molly Ivins called her.

She had crushed to be. For each her advantages, Ms. Farenthold had besides known repeated, astir unfathomable loss.


Credit...Matt Carr/Getty Images

Mary Frances Tarlton was calved successful Corpus Christi connected Oct. 2, 1926, to an eminent Democratic family. Her paternal grandfather, Benjamin Dudley Tarlton, had been a subordinate of the Texas House and main justness of what was past the Second Court of Civil Appeals, successful Fort Worth.

Her father, Benjamin Dudley Jr., was a territory attorney; her mother, the erstwhile Catherine Bluntzer, was, arsenic Ms. Farenthold described her, a “Southern belle.”

Owing to the efforts of a somewhat older brother, Benjamin Dudley III, to pronounce the connection “sister,” the babe Mary Frances would beryllium known to the extremity of her beingness arsenic Sissy.

When Sissy was 2, and Benjamin 3, helium died from complications of country to region a swallowed coin. Her parents’ grief suffused the household ever after, she said.

Sissy had her ain puerility struggles: She suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia and did not larn to work until she was astir 10. “I’ll ne'er hide wearing the dunce headdress successful the country of the classroom,” Ms. Farenthold told People mag successful 1976.

But exercising the guardant momentum that would beryllium a hallmark of her big life, she made herself into a scholar. After attending the Hockaday School, a girls’ preparatory academy successful Dallas, she entered Vassar astatine 16.

At 19, having earned a bachelor’s grade successful governmental science there, she enrolled successful instrumentality schoolhouse astatine the University of Texas, wherever her eyes were opened to sex inequality.

“I had ne'er heard of differences successful income betwixt men and women for the aforesaid work, oregon of women having trouble getting into grad school,” Ms. Farenthold told The Christian Science Monitor successful 1973. “But determination the students would marque bets connected however agelong it would beryllium earlier I would beryllium married, and whether I would marque it for six weeks.”

She received her instrumentality grade successful 1949 and joined her father’s steadfast successful Corpus Christi. The adjacent twelvemonth she joined George Edward Farenthold, a Belgian-born baron who became a Texas oilman.

She forsook the instrumentality for much than a decennary to rear their five children. Her father, however, continued to wage her barroom relation dues: He knew she would beryllium back.

In 1960, Ms. Farenthold’s 3-year-old son Vincent bled to decease aft a nighttime autumn that went unheeded. Like respective of the Farenthold children, helium suffered from von Willebrand disease, a clotting disorder.

“For years aft that, if I heard a kid cry, it would conscionable teardrop maine up,” she told Texas Monthly successful 1992. Yet she was determined, she said, not to reprise her parents’ perpetual mourning.

She returned to enactment successful 1965, becoming the manager of ineligible assistance for Nueces County, of which Corpus Christi is the seat. The people and radical inequities she encountered there, she said, would catalyze her governmental career.

“In our nine we judge successful attacking the powerless — punishing radical for being mediocre and babelike and having to beryllium supported by nationalist funds, portion almighty men are embezzling nationalist wealth to marque themselves rich,” Ms. Farenthold told The Guardian in 1973. “I privation adjacent justice.”

Her archetypal House run was tally connected the slimmest of budgets. She refused to advertise connected billboards successful immoderate case, due to the fact that she believed they ravaged the landscape. Instead, her supporters fashioned run signs from coffin lids and affixed them to the roofs of cars.

An opponent’s sign, meanwhile, work “Send a antheral to bash a man’s job.”

“No contention could beryllium arsenic hard arsenic the 1 successful ’68 was,” Ms. Farenthold told The Chicago Tribune successful 1973, “because I was breaking the ice. No pistillate had tally earlier successful the southbound of Texas.”

Yet connected the spot of her reformist populism — she decried the concern interests that she felt were moving authorities authorities — she won.

In her 2nd term, Ms. Farenthold became known arsenic a subordinate of the Dirty Thirty, a bipartisan reformist radical of authorities legislators convened successful effect to the Sharpstown scandal of 1971-72. In that scandal, elder authorities officials — among them Gus F. Mutscher Jr., the Democratic talker of the authorities House, and Governor Preston E. Smith, besides a Democrat — were accused of being allowed to bargain banal nether highly favorable presumption done a Houston banker, Frank Sharp, successful speech for governmental favors.

The Dirty Thirty (the name, proudly adopted, was an epithet hurled by an opponent) helped bring astir greater transparency successful authorities authorities proceedings, which had often been held down closed doors with capricious record-keeping and small ceremonial debate.

In 1971, with Ms. Jordan and a House colleague, Rex Braun, Ms. Farenthold sponsored the Texas Equal Rights Amendment. The bill, which prohibited favoritism based connected “sex, race, color, creed oregon nationalist origin,” passed successful some chambers. It was approved by voters successful 1972.

Ms. Farenthold unsuccessfully sought the governorship successful 1972 and again successful 1974. (The archetypal pistillate to clasp that station successful Texas was Miriam A. Ferguson, successful the 1920s and ’30s; the 2nd was Ann W. Richards, from 1991 to 1995.)

Ms. Farenthold earned 28 percent of the ballot successful the 1972 Democratic gubernatorial primary, finishing second to Dolph Briscoe Jr., a affluent rancher, who failed to gain a majority. He prevailed in a runoff, went connected to triumph the governorship and was re-elected successful 1974.

Three days aft Ms. Farenthold’s runoff defeat, the assemblage of her 32-year-old stepson, Randy Farenthold, from her husband’s anterior marriage, was recovered successful the Gulf of Mexico adjacent Corpus Christi. His hands were bound and a factual artifact was chained circular his neck.

The younger Mr. Farenthold, described successful the property arsenic a millionaire playboy, had been scheduled to attest successful the national proceedings of 4 associates alleged to person defrauded him of $100,000 successful a money-laundering strategy reported to impact organized crime. (One of them, Bruce Bass III, was indicted in the murder in 1976 and received a 16-year condemnation successful a plea statement the adjacent year.)

In July 1972, astatine the Democratic National Convention successful Miami Beach, Ms. Farenthold’s sanction was placed successful information for the vice presidency by Ms. Steinem. The information was seconded by Fannie Lou Hamer, the African-American civil-rights activist.

It was not the archetypal clip that a pistillate had been nominated for the vice presidency by a large party: Lena Springs, a Democrat, had her sanction placed successful information successful 1924, arsenic did the Democrat Nellie Tayloe Ross 4 years later.

But Ms. Farenthold was the archetypal to garner important support, earning votes from much than 400 delegates, capable to decorativeness second, up of notables similar Birch Bayh, Jimmy Carter, Edward M. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.

“That was the first clip I was supported due to the fact that I was a woman,” she aboriginal said. “I had ever been supported contempt the fact.”

(The winner was Thomas F. Eagleton, who would measurement down as George S. McGovern’s moving mate after it was learned that helium had been treated for depression. He was replaced by R. Sargent Shriver Jr.)

Ms. Farenthold near electoral authorities aft her 1974 gubernatorial loss.

“What I discovered,” she told The Texas Observer successful 2007, “was that governmental bureau was a beingness of constant motivation compromise. And I didn’t participate authorities with the intent of compromising my morality.”

In 1976 she became the archetypal pistillate to service arsenic president of Wells College, a tiny liberal-arts college, then for women only, successful Aurora, N.Y. During her four-year tenure, she balanced its budget, expanded pupil recruitment and founded the Public Leadership Education Network, a nationalist enactment that prepares women for captious public-policy roles.

As if successful fealty to her Texas roots, Ms. Farenthold besides studied the feasibility of enriching Wells’s coffers by tapping the immense reserves of earthy state that laic beneath the campus. In precocious 1980, aft she had left, Wells College heeded her recommendation: It drilled — and struck gas.

Returning to Texas, she practiced law successful Houston and taught at the University of Houston and astatine Texas Southern University, a historically Black instauration successful the city.

In 1989, her youngest child, Jimmy, disappeared, astatine 33. Jimmy, who was Vincent’s identical twin, was said ne'er to person gotten implicit his brother’s death; by the clip helium was a young antheral helium was addicted to drugs and drifting astir Texas. Despite extended searches, helium was ne'er recovered and is presumed dead. (The household held a ceremonial for him successful 2005.)

Ms. Farenthold’s matrimony ended successful divorce. She is survived by her lad George Farenthold II, who said the origin of decease was Parkinson’s disease; different son, Dudley; a daughter, Emilie C. Farenthold; a sister, Genevieve Hearon; 3 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren; and a step-grandson, Blake, the lad of Randy Farenthold. A younger brother, Dudley Tarlton, was killed successful a chopper clang successful 2003.

(Blake Farenthold is simply a erstwhile Republican subordinate of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas who did not question re-election successful 2018 aft it was revealed that helium had paid $84,000 of taxpayers’ wealth to settee a intersexual harassment suit against him.)

Ms. Farenthold’s galore laurels see a beingness accomplishment award, named for Ms. Ivins, from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Her enactment successful aboriginal years included agitating for cheery rights and against South African apartheid, the Iraq War and the torture of detainees astatine the United States subject situation astatine Guantánamo Bay. She served arsenic seat of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive deliberation vessel successful Washington, and arsenic a human-rights perceiver successful El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Iraq and elsewhere.

There remained overmuch to bash — capable for a lifetime, arsenic Ms. Farenthold made plain successful a 2009 public-television interview.

“I’ve ever said,” she declared, “on the mode to my funeral, if we passed a demonstration, I’ll astir apt leap out.”

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