Sissy Farenthold, Reform-Minded Lawmaker Touted For Vp, Dies

Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, a reform-minded liberal Democrat in the Texas House who was pushed for the party’s 1972 vice-presidential nomination, has died at age 94, her family said Monday.

Farenthold died Sunday at her Houston apartment after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease, her son, George Farenthold, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. She was six days shy of her 95th birthday, he said. Funeral arrangements were private, but a public memorial would be held at the University of Texas at Austin campus at a future date still to be scheduled, he said.

Elected to the Texas House in 1968, Farenthold told AP in 2008 that she recalled shaking hands with a man the next day who said, “'I voted for your husband yesterday,' and I said, ‘It was I.’ He said, ‘If I had known that, I wouldn’t have.’ That was a comedown!”

She was the only woman in the chamber but attained prominence as one of the “Dirty Thirty” reform-minded House members who kept alive as a political issue the Sharpstown stock-fraud scandal of 1971-72 that implicated the state's top elected leaders, all of them conservative Democrats.

As a result, Sissy Farenthold defeated Gov. Preston Smith and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, both among those implicated, in the 1972 Democratic primary before losing in the runoff to Dolph Briscoe, who went on to be elected governor.

That same year, Farenthold's name was placed in nomination for vice president at the Democratic National Convention by feminist activist Gloria Steinem. Her nomination was seconded by Black civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and former U.S. Rep. Allard Lowenstein, and tallied 420 votes before withdrawing in favor of U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton.

An outspoken liberal, Farenthold earned a spot on President Richard Nixon's “Enemies List." which comprised some his major political opponents. In 1973, she was elected the first chair of the National Women's Political Caucus that recruited women to be political candidates.

Farenthold's activism included leading protests against South Africa's apartheid and nuclear proliferation. The graduate of the University of Texas School of Law went on to teach law at the Texas Southern University and University of Houston law schools. And despite her advocacy of political power for women, she did not support Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign because of Clinton's Senate vote for the war in Iraq.

“I never thought that when the first strong woman showed up, I would not support her,” Farenthold said. But she said she can’t “because I was so unalterably opposed to the war.”