thumbnail of Assignment America; 124; Sissy Farenthold: A Texas Maverick
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She changed the face of Texas politics. Texas will never be the same again. In fact it is she and she alone who truly represents what is different about the 1972 convention. In us supporters, you see before you a coalition of women, of black people, of Spanish speaking people and other young people who support her. Make history know that this was a difference convention. Vote for Sissy Farenthold for vice president of the United States. Thank you. [music playing and clapping] [music playing][Terkel]: We believe so much in winners and losers that we often fall for labels before there's been a
fair contest. So it was that Sissy Farenthold, the runner up with 406 votes never had a chance. George McGovern was never serious considering a woman as running mate even after a [inaudible]. It's most important to ask what if, then what now was Sissy Farenthold. We'll do that in the next half hour as you meet a Texas maverick. I'm Studs Terkel. [music] [music playing] In the spring of 1972 Sissy Farenthold campaigned for the
governorship of Texas. As the first woman to seek that office on her own, she was expected to run fourth among four major candidates. Her chief asset was her reputation as a reformer which she had earned during two terms in the Texas legislature. [Sissy] I was told a couple of months ago in Washington I was thinking about it. They said Do you realize that you will face all the power economic and political. The Texas establishment, and they went on to detail names, some of which I'm sure you're fully aware of. And I said I have lived in the [shower] shadow of that power all my life, and I do not intend to be deterred." [music] [Terkel]: Lacking her opponent's money for television advertising, Farenthold traveled the state engaging DC 3. She refused [Jame's] billboard ads because she had advocated legislation banning them. She called herself an insurgent because liberal is a dirty word in Texas.
In the primary Farenthold capitalized on scandal in state government [inaudible] touched two of the candidates, the incumbent governor and lieutenant governor. She defeated them and was thrown into a runoff with Dolph Briscoe a wealthy rancher. Briscoe was elected but Farenthold got 46 percent of the vote. [voices in backgroound] Suddenly discovered by the women's movement, Sissy became an instant candidate for the Vice Presidency at the 1972 Democratic convention. [voices in background, "We want Sissy"] In 1973 she was elected as the first chairperson of the National Women's Political Caucus. In 1974 Sissy decided to once again run for governor. [Sissy}: While the governor has been in office, I have not harassed or badgered him. though I've monitored his actions and his inactions closely, and I have concluded that his policy is to do as
little as he can get away with. [Terkel]: But Briscoe had the incumbent's advantage. The voters were apathetic. Sissy was badly beaten receiving only 30 percent of the vote. Since then she has devoted her time to speaking engagements and to teaching law at the University of Houston. Her seminar in sex based discrimination is as much a course for her, she says, as for her students. [Sissy}: "The statue is of Albertus Magnus. He was the leading scholar of the Middle Ages and a teacher of Thomas Aquinas, and I couldn't help but remark that it was appropriate for our state since in many ways we're still in the Middle Ages. I had a brother that was a year older than I, and he couldn't say sister; so it predates all other stuff, and a when I first ran it was that that long long name with my maiden surname and Francis Tarlton Farenthold which I finally just said to people it's the longest name on the ballot. You know I didn't want to take that much time telling them what I was.
And in 72 when there was all this about you know how I was in quotes be presented then it was back to Frances. They thought Sissy was frivolous or something I said, "It doesn't matter do what you want but that means going to surface." I didn't talk at first. People tell me I was around five before I started talking, and I can remember one of the biggest things in my life was when I learned to read. I was much older. I was at least nine, I think, and I just couldn't read enough. [music] [Terkel}: Sissy Farenthold's mother didn't believe young children should spend much time in school, but eventually Sissy was sent off to live with wealthy relatives in Dallas and to attend the Hockaday Preparatory School. She went on to Vassar, graduating in three years of the class of 1946. There she became aware of class and racial injustice. She wrote home
refusing to make her debut in Corpus Christi society. Texas was sure that Vassar had changed Sissy forever. Today Sissy Farenthold is a member of the Vassar Board of Trustees, and so her daughter, Emily, a senior at the college, gets to see her mother more frequently. [Sissy}: I was 19 when I got out of Vassar, and it just I couldn't conceive of just sitting at home as my father used to say. He thought it was sort of pitiful to see young women that got out of college then to just sit and sort of wait to be married, and that was much in the kind a tradition; so I had encouragement to do other things, and and a I went to law school, and as strange as it soun- sounded so, it was almost the line of least resistance a simply because there were many lawyers in my family, and it was kind of tradition. Had I decided to go back to New York or something like that, I'm sure I'd a had a
lot more trouble [Terkel]: How many women in your graduating class in law school? [Sissy]: As I recall there were 3. [Terkel]: Out of? [Sissy]: Well it seemed to me at one time there were 3 out of 800 hundred. And interestingly enough 25 years later when I go to the Texas legislature it's just about, I'd say, the same ratio. There were a hundred and forty nine men in the house and one woman. I went in knowing that blacks and browns were not represented in the Texas legislature. But what I went out in 2 later campaigns for the gubernatorial nomination was to tell the people of Texas that none of them were represented. I wouldn't give up the four years that I served in that body for anything, but I very clearly made the decision in 72 not to go back because I knew full well I'd become either, at least for me, a legislative hack or a legislative whine, and I didn't want to
didn't want to be either. [Terkel]: Sissy speaks of the Center for the American Woman in Politics at Rutgers University. [Sissy's voice in background] [Sissy]: More women are doing something that I'm very pleased about and that's not spending your whole life at the bottom because I came from a very hierarchical society down in south Texas. I hear people first say," Well I'd vote for a black if he was qualified." Then I'd hear a couple of years, a couple of more elections, and people sort of you know finally saying, 'Well, I'd vote for a Mexican-American if he was qualified." And then, of course, I've heard for a long, long time "Yes, I'd vote for a woman if she was qualified." Last time I heard that was during the primary race last year from the Sheriff of Harris County,
and it worried me. It worried me so much that I thought a lot about it, and I've turned it around, and I want to leave you with a thought [unintelligible] and that is that. I'm working for the day when the unqualified black, and the unqualified brown, and the un qualified woman join the unqualified white man in the pursuit and holding of public goal. [applause] Get it today. What requirements are set for Gerald Ford to be President of this country? And yet we'll haggle for six hours over what woman in quotes or what black and never yet mentioned a Mexican American is qualified. [applause and singing]
[Terkel}: Houston's liberal Democrats befriended Farenthald even before she moved there 3 years ago. Many Texas liberals can't understand why she ran for governor last year. She was on her own. As a result she was able to raise less than a quarter of the money and 74 that she had in 72. Also against her was the Texas tradition of giving an incumbent a second term. Because of Sissy's second defeat in 74, many liberals are saying privately that you couldn't win another statewide race in Texas. Others disagree. I remember why they chose to have their picnic at the San Jacinto battleground where Sam Houston defeated Santa Ana and proclaimed Texas independence. The operative word independence. [New Speaker]: This place really had a pretty good tradition a sort of a populist tradition but when the oil came it became necessary for the oil industry to buy off the Texas governor's government entirely. [Terkel]: Chris Dixon is a labor lawyer in Houston and one of Sissy's key political advisors.
[Chris Dixon]: They could control the production of oil so they could control the price of oil. [Sissy]: It's what I call in 72, and it it just came from observing things I did in Austin. What we've had for so long in this state is what I call private government. [Terkel]: ?inaudible? public government, something simple as that. [Dixon]: Her vote was twice the highest vote that the Liberals have ever scored in any race in Texas. In other words, her appeal [Terkel]: Yeah [Dixon]: is way beyond just the liberals. [Terkel]: Chris you've been a lawyer in Texas for a long time, and how does the fact that Sissy is a woman affect you or or the voters of- of Texas? Have we had this tradition ever in Texas before, aside from Ma Ferguson replacing her impeached husband as Governor? [Dixon]: Oh, it's been a little bit of an effort for us Texans to accept the idea that it's gonna be a woman that changes things. [Sissy]: Remember what Mr. Ward said when he checked that out in the plants? [Dixon]: Well yeah, [Sissy]: Three years ago [Dixon]: I heard, I heard one leader say, "We can support her.
She's a woman, but she really thinks like a man".(Laughing) [Sissy]: Well, we'll let that pass. [Children playing] [Man]: Oh, almost. Anybody can do it. Let's go. [while children play] [Sissy]: Seeinng that donkey reminds me the kind of work that I did for 20 years in New {Aces} County was to go out and locate the donkey and bring the donkey into things like this. (children playing) ?inaudible? Pinatas come from Mexico. It's, it's filled with candy and sometimes they're very elaborate. We even had a a life-sized Christmas one that we brought back from Mexico once. (children playing with pinata) I think it's sort of dangerous myself. Don't you have that feeling with this wildly swinging stick and
blindfolded, but it's amazing that the children so ?sel-? Film her with all lthe excitement. The best thing maybe about it all is that whoever does it, they all share. [Man speaking French]: Mademoiselle ?blaque? [Woman speaking French]: Oui monsieur? [Man speaking in French]: Au ?unintelligible? (speaking French) Williams Brothers [Terkel]: Sissy's husband of 25 years is a Belgian born aristocrat. He came to Texas as a young man and got involved in oil. Today his main business is the sell and financing of imported steel pipe for pipelines. [George Farenthold]: This is a feast or famine type of situation. One year (unintelligible) I didn't think (unintelligible) tons of steel and the next year thirty five hundred tons which is a 3 percent of what it did the year before. [Sissy]: The oil companies overcharged The Department of Defense
6 hundred million dollars in an 18 month period. [George Farenthold]: I [George Farenthold]: Problem an awful lot. One third of my life is spent uh on the road, and when you're on the road you eat too much, you drink too much, you don't sleep enough, and you really basically get very bad shape physically. (birds calling) Well I think I'll go swimming. I found out about doing this half hour swimming every morning half a kilometer, I feel a lot better and I was it keeps me from (unintelligible) shape for a man nearly 60 because my next birthday in December will be 60. (water gurgling as he swims) [Sissy]: Oh no. Oh Florida Senate defeated the E.R.A. 21 to 17. [George Farenthold]: She does as much if not more traveling than I do. She does it in the United States whereas I do most of my
traveling outside the United States, but uh we've managed to meet at home on weekends generally, and during her campaign days we'll even meet in the airport somewhere and uh manage to spend the night together even if it's at the Houston airport, rather than make that extra 25 miles home. I think that every woman especially who has raised a family and has a good education, and I think they ought to do what they feel they best suited for, and I'm not going to try to tell her what to do. Basically she has a life and she has a lot to offer to this country, and I don't think I'd ever want to stop her from doing it. (music playing) [Terkel]: Home movies from the early 1950s. The beach at Padre Island was a short distance from the Farenthold home in Corpus Christi. Sissy gave birth to five children in five years. (music in background)
Now she finds it amusing, having been so concerned in those days about serving dinner guests the same meal twice. She kept records of who ate what. Her father, who had taught her to think for herself in court and out, hoped that she'd return to the law someday. (music) Sissy would continue the tradition. Five generations of her ancestors have helped shape Texas history. After giving birth 2 sons and a daughter, Sissy had twins. (music) At the age of 4 one of the twins hit his head in the bathtub and died of internal haemorrhaging. All of the children suffer from a rare form of hemophilia. George urged Sissy to become active in community life to overcome her grief. In the 60s, she got involved in school problems. She became President of the Diocesan Council of Catholic women, increased its membership,
started low cost school lunches and worked for safer playgrounds. And from her front porch she watched in horror as her Bay Front View turned ugly. She had hoped that the landfill for storm protection would bring beautification, but instead it brought a honky tonk world. (music in background) She filed suit to stop the putting up of an oversized Ramada Inn sign. Though she failed to remove the sign, Sissy argued the case before the Texas Supreme Court and established the right of any citizen to sue in protest of a zoning decision. Further encroachment was stopped. (music) For Sissy Farenthold, that experience was pivotal. She realized for the first time that the public interest was not necessarily protected by public officials. Her efforts impressed local lawyers. They offered her the job as Corpus Christi director of legal aid.
She hadn't seen people with real problems before. She learned firsthand what poverty meant. She saw that instead of helping the poor. State laws were often frustrating. Determined to do something about it, she ran for the legislature and won. (music continues) Some 6 hours drive north of Corpus Christi in East Texas are the ranches and oil fields of Major J.R. Parton, an 80 year old millionaire who supports a wide range of liberal causes. He first met Farenthol in 72 when he supported her campaign for governor. [J.R. Parton]: These are ?Indo-Brazil? type red bulls. [Terkel]: That is not bone, but flesh. [Parton]: No, that's flesh. That's flesh. [Terkel]: The one issue we can't evade is money and we know it today in this country people are aware of what everybody is. [Parton]: That is right. That is right. [Terkel]: A president, a governor, or
a senator, a man or a woman. It can't be done without money. How's that ?inaudible? faced by someone like Sissy Farenthold who's opposed by most of the big money. [Parton]: Well Sissy had a hard time from a standpoint raising money because most of the big money givers were against her, but uh, uh I'm strongly in favor of limitation gifts. I think the federal government is ?ceeded? in the right way and Limiting campaign gifts to $300, uh, $3000 per person and the penalty for violation should be very severe. It shouldn't be a slap on the wrist like it has been in the past. I think money has put some bad men in office. I think ah there's a lot of evidence of that that's happened in Washington recently. [Terkel]: How you see the future tomorrow for Texas and the day after? [Parton]: Texas is a
very conservative state and it looks to me that it's going to remain conservative for some time. But, uh, really the, we haven't had a real liberal governer here since James V. Allread. [Terkel]:That's back in the 30s. [Parton]: That's back in the 30s. He was the last. And, uh, but there'll be another, there'll be another in time. [Terkel]: That fervent hope is shared by an old friend of mine. The Texas humorist John Henry Faulk, who is also a close friend of the Farenthold family. [John Henry Faulk]: Sissy isn't a person of rhetoric at all. To her own hurt and harm in political circles in Texas, she's a very direct woman. She says she has almost that old time evangelicalism of saying that is wrong and you do not compromise with wrong. [Terkel]: John Henry invited the Farenthold family and friends to a fish fry.
Sissy's eldest son once worked with Faulk in organizing opposition to the Vietnam War. Her second son recently lived on Faulk's farm. Faulk, who has a daily radio show in Dallas, has cut radio spots and tried to raise money for Sissy. [Faulk]: Well, they'll be remembering Sissy when they can't remember who in the hell's the governor of Texas or who either one of the senators are during this period. [Sissy]: I think personally that I would have been in torment had I'm not gone on as difficult as it has been to lose and lose as decisively as I did because I just didn't think the scenario had been completed on reform and, um, it hasn't been as far as I'm concerned but I did what I could and that's it. [Terkel]: Sissy although you've been called a bleeding heart, you became a tough member of that legislature to which you were elected in 68. A dissenter there. When LBJ, President, why don't you tell us about it, was being honored when the Vietnam War was going on. [Sissy]: Well, I was very late coming to, to any opposition to the
Vietnam War. Uh, I had been brought up on that bipartisan foreign policy. That kind of notion that, um, if foreign policy was beyond the ordinary citizen and the ordinary voter and let those that know so much more make the decision. And, President Johnson was coming back, back home to Texas in January of 1969 and a resolution was introduced asking him to come and address a joint session of the legislature. But as I read the resolution it went beyond that. It commended his administration. And I read and re-read that and there wasn't any way to read it without it including Vietnam. Maybe I wanted to find a way not to have Vietnam included. I don't know. I know I was terribly troubled about it. [Terkel]: The vote was 149 honoring LBJ and his administration.
One against and you were that one. What do you think it is that impelled you to say no? [Sissy]: I think you've ultimately have to do what you think is right and then take the chance of being thrown out or whatever. [Terkel]: You're not going to stay out of politics? [Sissy]: I don't know. Let me - Let me say one thing. I learned, and you know this kind of thing can be seared into you as it was with me in 74, that if you don't have, if- if- if you don't have the resources of a corporate entity, you're not considered viable. And I'm not speaking just- [Terkel]: By who? [Sissy]: First by the entire gamut of the media. I saw that in 74. Time and time again. There'd be only one question the reporters were curious about. Was I raising any money. And this was right in the wake of Watergate and all. [Terkel]: Uh. [Sissy]: So and I won't, I won't try again. You know I thought I'm strong hearted and or just maybe mule headed, as people have describe me and we can get
this coalition together. We can move in the field of reform, but your wings are clipped. [Terkel]: Sissy, you're tired. You seem to be despairing. Yet you're in it right smack in the middle of it. Do you have regrets that you became a public figure and went through this experience? [Sissy]: Oh not a bit. You know again I guess it goes back to what I said originally about having a lot of curiosity. And as, as searing as, like, say like 74 was or undoubtedly it was, I learned a lot from it. I learned a lot. I also learned how much more controlled there is than I thought there was. And you see all my activities basically have been on the state level. But, and I always wanted to stay there is the irony of it because it always seem to me that the state government still could be manageable. It still has so much to do with the everyday life of human beings.
And so maybe,um, you know people are always saying I am pessimistic so I don't want to overstate it for that reason. But when I read that thing that the French side has said that about 2025 our oceans would be dead, I couldn't help but thinking that I think here I'm still thinking in industrial images of a car careening with the brakes gone. We had the power. We had the resources for leadership since World War II and where are we now? Since early on in the Cold War, I've had a deep deep, deep fear of nuclear Holocaust. I don't- I don't understand some of the policy makers and I imagine that things are even more fearful than we were aware of and I suppose it's supposed to be one more example that the American people can't sort of consume the truth. And for some I guess a retreat into
a very private life is is, is the only thing that makes any sense. At this point it would be difficult for me to see that. My daughter wants told me, she said, "Well Mom, all the rebelling you did was really more symbolic than anything." Maybe she's right. I hope not. [seagulls and ocean sounds] [seagulls and ocean sounds] [seagulls and ocean sounds] For a transcript of tonight's program please send $1 to
Series
Assignment America
Episode Number
124
Episode
Sissy Farenthold: A Texas Maverick
Producing Organization
WNET (Television station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
Thirteen WNET (New York, New York)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip/75-257d807m
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Description
In this episode of Assignment America, Studs Terkel reports on the life and career of Sissy Farenthold, the former candidate for governor of Texas and U.S. Vice-President. The episode centers on Farenthold's journey to becoming a Texas politician, as well as her political views and personal career reflections. Farenthold also shares her thoughts on the political prospects of women, minorities, and Texas liberals. The episode features interviews with Farenthold and her supporters.
Created
1975-06-24
Asset type
Episode
Genres
Documentary
Topics
Social Issues
Women
Politics and Government
Rights
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Media type
Moving Image
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Credits
Interviewee: Farenthold, Frances (Frances Tarlton), 1926-
Interviewer: Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008
Producer: Weinberg, Howard
Producing Organization: WNET (Television station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Thirteen - New York Public Media (WNET)
Identifier: wnet_aacip_3178 (WNET Archive)
Format: U-matic
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Citations
Chicago: “Assignment America; 124; Sissy Farenthold: A Texas Maverick,” 1975-06-24, Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 22, 2020, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_75-257d807m.
MLA: “Assignment America; 124; Sissy Farenthold: A Texas Maverick.” 1975-06-24. Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 22, 2020. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_75-257d807m>.
APA: Assignment America; 124; Sissy Farenthold: A Texas Maverick. Boston, MA: Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_75-257d807m