The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.
The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.
The Houston Public Library retains the literary and publishing rights of its oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without the written permission of the Houston Oral History Project.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to:
The Houston Oral History Project.
Houston Public Library
Houston, Texas 77002
The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.
For more information email the Houston Oral History Project at email@example.com.
Interview with: Frances 'Sissy' Farenthold
Interviewed by: Frank Michel
Date: October 1, 2007
FM: The date is October 1, 2007. We are interviewing Frances 'Sissy' Farenthold. Thank you for coming and agreeing to do this. I am going to ask you in a few minutes - I will give you a little bit of time to think about this - what your first recollections of Houston were and maybe how it has changed. We can come back to that in a little bit. You were raised in a prominent political family and have been involved in politics in this state and in this region for a long time. What was that like growing up and that experience, and can you name or talk about some of the famous political figures that we all know . . .
SF: Or infamous!
FM: Or infamous, yes.
SF: Well, I was brought up in Corpus Christi, Texas. Getting on the train, an overnight train, from the time I was about 5 with my parents and taking the train to Houston was one of the great events in my life. I was able to accompany them from time to time because my father was an attorney down in Corpus Christi and came from the class of 1911. They prided themselves on the people they had and the different law firms here and so forth. So, I really knew Houston as this big city that we could get to if we took the overnight train that had berths and go over the rickety causeway. So, that is my earliest recollection. And then, we had relatives here and we would visit them. So, that was a big part of it. I remember stopping at the train station that is now part of the stadium and going to the Rice Hotel and Kelly's Restaurant across the street which was one of my father's favorites. So, I have early memories of Houston. And, of course, the Rice still stands and fortunately, the railroad under a different function is there today. So, it was always part of my life to come up here and then that continued. I did not move here actually until . . . I had to keep my domicile in Corpus when I was in the Legislature because at that point, the wife's domicile followed the husband's. He had moved up here, my husband, George, had moved up here but we kept our domicile, kept our house in Corpus Christi so there would not be any question about that. And then, when I came back from Wells College where I had been for 4 years from 1976 to 1980, I guess I had a choice of what city in Texas. I was certainly coming back to Texas. I am parochial that way. Houston was my choice. It remains my choice, so I say I have been passing through Houston for 30 years and that my last pasture will be Corpus Christi. But I have grown up and it has been a time of such change I think, both good and bad. I mean, there is an impermanence about things now that certainly was not part of my childhood or early adulthood. I never expected to leave Corpus Christi. That had been a home for 5 generations of one side of my family. Things change so fast now. Now, we are having . . . and then, these outside events that have so affected society, from the bomb in Hiroshima to the climate change now. And that is what I mean about the impermanence of our life. It used to be that you were settled in a place, your children would be there, your grandchildren would be there. There is nothing like that now. So, there has been a big change that way. And this is not about Houston but perhaps, in part, it did.
I also grew up in Houston more cognizant of really the revolution that took place in my own community as far as the Mexican Americans were concerned. You know, when you look back on it and you see Corpus Christi today, it is a different place. And I attribute that . . . you know, many people worked on it but I really think Dr. Hector Garcia that was the founder of the GI Forum had enormous influence in bringing that change about. And, you know, I could go on chapter and verse. And up here, I think it was much more the Civil Rights Movement of the African American. But in Corpus Christi, the African Americans are only 5%, the Mexican Americans as we were then called, was around 35, now it is over 50, so I think growing up in what I call a border area has had a real effect on me because I cannot think of people whose heritage is part of ours as aliens. I do not like the word "alien" to start with. I think we are all human beings. But be that as it may, growing up in that environment and having to unlearn . . . I think about my Hockaday experience . . . I had a wonderful teacher who was from Houston, Ms. Waldo - her house is now on the National Preservation site, whatever - but Ms. Waldo taught us in American history that the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were un-Constitutional. So, I had a lot of unlearning to do. But I think it was wonderful growing up in Corpus Christi and seeing the potential, the need for change, the potential for it, and it actually coming about. Now, everything is not solved, by a long shot, but it was sort of an eye to the world. As hierarchical and structured as that place was, I have seen some extraordinary changes. And I love Houston for the vitality of it.
When I first came here, the thing I liked most was the anonymity. I moved here, well, after I finished the Legislature in 1972, 1973, and the anonymity was what I liked - this huge place, this city, and the vitality and the energy of it and all the different people that come here. Now, there is a dark side to that, too. Just yesterday, I learned about refugee women from Somalia that are just in terrible straights here. You know, that is a whole other subject. And that comes with all of these changes that we have had here. And there are things to be addressed. I guess really, except for my legislative experience which was more than interesting, I would urge everyone to try to spend one term in the Texas Legislature. You see a world that you are not familiar with. But in Houston, it was really not until I came back from Wells College in 1980 that I got involved locally. I had had the issues on pollution, for example, because of Rex Braun who served in the Legislature with me from, I think Pasadena or one of those towns over there but when I came back, I got involved with the Salvadorian refugees which opened up a whole other world of how we are friendly with a country, we call them economic refugees; if we are unfriendly with the country, unfriendly with the leadership of the country, we call them political refugees and give them asylum. I will not go into chapter and verse on that but it was opening up. And then, I saw also the non-governmental groups of people trying to help, especially the churches, and peace and justice groups. So, I got involved in the peace and justice scene down here through the Salvadorians. And then, I think that was the 1980s. And I made about 7 trips down to Central America during that time, and that is a whole other subject. But in the 1990s, I got involved with a very interesting experience and that was Allen Parkway Village. And I have to tip my hat to Mayor Lanier. He and I had been in law school together. He had every political base covered. When he wanted to do something, there wasn't any place you could turn. He had it covered. And we really lost for the preservation or improvement of Allen Parkway and the 1994 Congress of when Henry Gonzalez, who had been the champion for keeping Allen Parkway as public remodeling it, the rest of it but keeping it as public, lost his chairmanship of the banking committee and it went to whoever it went to. And once we lost that, we lost it all, as far as I am concerned. So, that was, as I say, I am acquainted with taking Don Quixote issues on.
FM: Henry Cisneros was the HUD secretary?
SF: He was the HUD secretary and he tried to help as best he could. He did indeed. I will certainly give him credit for that. And he was between a rock and a hard place because of the whole relationship with the mayor. So, it was tough for him.
FM: You already talked about some of them but talking about Allen Parkway Village, who were the heroes and who were the villains in that story?
SF: Well, I don't know if there are any. It is an interesting experience in government. It has so many facets to it and everyone has their scars from it but everyone, you know, had their shortcomings, too. I don't think there was any particular hero. I think Lyndon Johnson carried the thing and the only reason, Frank, I got into it was that he would call and I would say, "Well, have you talked to this one, this one, that one?" all public officials. I was not a public official at the time. But he could not get a response from any of them. Now, I think Craig Washington had worked out a compromise that probably, looking back, was the best thing, but you don't always have that vision that your hindsight shows you. So, it was a complicated thing but I think it is very much a part of Houston. I remember one time being there at twilight on the campus of Allen Parkway Village and the sun was being reflected on all the buildings downtown and it was an incredibly beautiful scene. And I said to Linwood, I said "Linwood, this is such a beautiful scene," and he said, "Yes, that is the problem."
FM: Some people watching this may not know fully what we are talking about. I would just be kind of interested in maybe 2 or 3 or a small paragraph from you about what was at stake.
SF: Well, it was a question of we felt that Mickey Leland had been in it and there had been the Leland Frost Bill to preserve Allen Parkway, and there had been other people interested in doing other things with it because it was a choice piece of real estate. So, it went on, the struggle to keep it went on for about 10 years, I think, and many, many different chapters on it. So, it would take up our whole time and it is not worth that. But it was always said, and I guess this came out of my living, where Barrier Island saved us from many hurricanes down in Corpus Christi. And I always said that Allen Parkway Village was the barrier island to the 4th Ward; that once it was gone, you would see the gentrification of 4th Ward. The demolishing, really, of some historic buildings. And now, we have the brick streets and I do not know what is there but it was just inevitable once that barrier island, the decisions went over it.
FM: So, that is just one example of how you have been active in Houston causes.
SF: Yes. And I had no idea about Allen . . . I did not even care about being in it but I would say, talk to this one, this one. So, that is what happens, and that is what happens to me with, I would say, some frequency.
FM: I know that one cause or one institution that has been important to you is the Rothco Chapel. And I know that you knew Mrs. Damon Hill. Just talk a little bit about that and your involvement there, what that means to the community and what she meant, maybe.
SF: To my way of thinking, because I thoroughly enjoy the art of their collection and it is very meaningful and so forth, but where I came to know them was through human rights, and basically the Civil Rights Movement. When I was in the Legislature, I used to read the Houston paper, of course, both of them, and I saw where he Menils had offered The Broken Obelisk, the sculpture by Newman, if the city would name it in honor of Dr. King, and he city refused to, 1969. It was during my first term. And I wrote them, you know, thanking them for their hoped for gift and then disappointed about what happened. So, I do not even think I got a response to that, I do not know, but that is the first time they were on the map for me, was over that. And then, in 1972, they had a fund raiser for me when I was running in the Democratic primary. And then, I went to things at the Rothco after it opened, I think in 1973. It was after Mr. _____Menil had died. Then, when I came back from my 4 years as college president, I really gravitated towards . . . it was the beginning of the Reagan years. I really gravitated towards the Rothco. It seemed to me it was like a sea of humanism. And then, as I mentioned earlier, where I really started working with Mrs. _____Menil was on the Salvadorian issue. And she showed tremendous leadership here. And it meant so much to have someone of her stature supporting these pitiful refugees that had come from all kinds of persecution, the ones that were lucky enough. And she stood very strong on that and as a consolence, you know, what goes on in that line is that award that the chapel gives every 2 years in memory of Archbishop Romero. So, that was another really educational . . . each of these has had its educational component, and I have always felt that the Menils, aside from being wonderful in art, wonderful in civil rights, they are basically educators in the very finest sense of it. For example, her efforts when she had a colloquium entitled "The Roots of Islam" in about 1982, for me was transforming because I realized my total ignorance on the subject. I mean, there were Muslims there from the Philippines. Well, I never thought of Muslims in the Philippines. Hadn't Magellan gone there in whatever year it was, 15 something? So, they opened up different worlds which I think, with time, we see those worlds . . . it is very important to be aware of those worlds.
FM: I want to ask you a little bit about politics. You could not escape that topic in this __________.
SF: I know doctors who ask me.
FM: But I heard an interesting story the other day. You mentioned earlier about you came to Houston to seek anonymity but I guess you have achieved anything but.
SF: Well, in certain circles. Now, I want you to know that I took my granddaughter to the San Jacinto Junior College for orientation and I had a lot of anonymity there.
FM: O.K., but you have known a lot of prominent Houstonians and people active in all walks of life here in Houston. I heard a story the other day about when you were running for statewide office and Ms. Imma Hogg had you down for a fundraiser at the Bayou Club. They did not do that sort of thing at the Bayou Club at that time. Were you aware of the controversy and tell us a little bit about the story, if you will.
SF: Well, all I know is my father's first cousin was Wright Morrow and they had been raised together. And Wright was a Dixiecrat before the story was over and my father was sort of the go-between between him and the labor movement, be that as it may. But anyway, I had no notion about any of this and, you see, Governor Hogg had appointed my grandfather to the Commission of Appeals which was part of what is now the Supreme Court. So, there was this family connection, and my father knew the brothers and so forth. I did not know of any controversy about it because I just came in but the thing that I was puzzled about . . . I was too busy just with schedules and things . . . is Wright introduced me and I thought, what in the world is he going to say? And I had always said that I would be an activist within the confines of the 1876 Constitution. And whatever my politics are, and that is right now, one of my near obsessions, is that we are to follow the rule of law, we are to respect our Constitution, and I am more trouble than at any time in my life over what is happening to our government, our national government. But back to the Bayou Club, it was neither here nor there to me but I did notice that Wright sort of stood, it was where a fireplace was there, and he sort of mulled around a while and he started talking about my concern with the Constitution. And I thought, yeah, that will work because I really feel very strongly that . . . I do not believe in going outside the boundaries.
FM: I guess Imma Hogg was your hostess at that affair?
FM: What are your recollections of her?
SF: Well, she was lovely because then there was a book put out called "Shadow on the Alamo" about our work, the Dirty Thirty work which people may not know but we were a reform movement and we got that term from a lobbyist who did not approve of some of our maneuvers and called us the Dirty Thirty Bastards. Well, we dropped the last thing and ______. He came down here as an investigative journalist. Katz was his name. Wrote a book called "Shadow on the Alamo" about all this. Well, he had something in there that Miss Imma took exception to about her father. Well, because the book had a lot in it about me, she assumed I was responsible for that, and I had to go and say, "Miss Imma, there is nothing like" . . . I do not know if she ever really understood it. But she was a lovely person. We first met at her place, her apartment, one of those high rises over here in River Oaks. She had moved out of her house. She told me sitting there that the most interesting man she had met was Lenin, and I thought, gee, this is new for Houston. And then, later in 1974 when I ran again and had lost what I call the element of surprise, she was still my friend and supporter. And I remember sitting out and I thought what a wonderful way to look at the ending of life, because we were sitting at her place. The oleanders were all out. What is it, Bayou Bend? And a man with a child came . . . _____ of people were there and a man with his child, you know, upon his shoulders, and she looked around and she said, "It gives me such pleasure to see people happy like this." And I was just taken with the way she had moved from that place, you know, and yet, she derived so much pleasure from what she had given the city. No, Ms. Imma was . . . just as a footnote, I think she had offered, and that may have had as much with helping me as anything, she had offered Governor Hogg's furniture to the people staying at the governor's house in Austin and they had turned it down. So, she was chagrined about that. Of course, I did not come to their defense.
FM: I understand. And you talked about the Dirty Thirty had something to do with the little thing we know as Sharpstown.
SF: And every time I drive out to Sharpstown . . . it was so amusing because I always made a point if I was going to do these things because my first term, I had . . . and the Houston Post had been great about covering it as was this whole thing with Jerry Sadler, the land commissioner. It has been forgotten but it was what I cut my teeth on. But when I was going to do things, I always informed the Speaker, probably it was not very sharp politics but it is the way I was brought up or whatever. So, I would go in that summer. We had a special session and I would go in and say, "I would like to see the Speaker." And his office staff would tell me that he was in Houston seeing the astronauts. Well, it later turned out that was all during the Sharpstown activity which, of course, we did not know at the time but I often wondered how many astronauts did he see all that summer because he was gone a great part of the time. That is another whole subject. We were not following . . . when the inspector did not require Gonzalez to take the oath in the beginning, I went back to those days because in Austin, no public official has to take the oath. And so, when I went back to reconstruct, what had happened in the Sadler thing which involved a lot of gold that had been found on the galleon out near Padre Island, my district in the Legislature, there was no record. And so, as a consequence of that, I did what I could and I think we did change the rule to at least it would be tape recorded, there would be tape. And the only thing that I really got from the Speaker was you could not trust people when they said, "Oh, this is a little old bill and all it is doing is that." And so, I urged that we have a set of black statutes, the black is the proper name, of the Texas laws right there on the floor so we could check it because things needed checking. So, the rule of law was on some very fundamental issues like, what is that nice word for not telling the truth? I have forgotten it.
FM: At what point, if you recollect, did you realize the scandal would be as broad and far reaching as it turned out to be?
SF: You know, when you start on something, Frank, you do not know where it is going to end. I mean, it can end in a dead end as APB or it can end as the Sharpstown scandal did. And the interesting thing about that is that when there was just a little thing in the Austin paper the night of the turnover, just before the session started, and it was first brought to our attention by some Republican legislators. The Republicans were ahead on that. They knew something. And then, as we got into it, the ones that had taken a leadership thing just drifted out. We always had Republicans among the 30 of us but they were not in the leadership after a couple of weeks, and I have never understood why. And then, it grew because we, in the beginning, were just ostracized. I mean, when you do something like that which we forced the Speaker to go out and go back to his office, which I guess he never liked, and debate this issue; frankly, where I was coming from was I had majored in political science with the emphasis on Texas at Vassar, mind you, which made it very difficult . . . I had to get material from Austin and one thing and the other. What I really wanted to know and all I was asking for was a study of the legislative process. Where did those two bills that would set up a kind of Texas FDIC and take all FDIC regulation out, what was the process, because I had done my thesis as an undergraduate on following the Milk Bill which started in western New York and ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court . . . so, that was my mindset. But, you know, just blockades were put in front of us to try to find anything out because my situation, I was so ignorant on it that I voted for the first Sharpstown bill. I voted for it. It had come out with the Committee chair saying this was it. Then, we had a little time and I went over to the Senate side, and Bill Patman who was in the Senate then and an honorable person - I always went to him for banking issues when I had the time - I went to him and he said, "This is a bad bill." So, I went back and voted against it. And then, it was really a query about, you know, you ought to know more about what you are doing and how did this thing ever get to this point? But it then grew, as you know.
FM: At what point did you realize it had grown?
SF: Well, one of the things that started happening is I started getting letters, not from the gun lobby which I got plenty of those, you know, the postcards that you are inundated with, but I would get these handwritten letters . . . stay with this, there is something in it. And when someone . . . I think Clay Robinson was calling me about another issue this past year . . . the public had more access to what was going on. We had radio, we had two newspapers and they both covered and covered different things. The Post was very good on environment and so on. So, it was beginning to roll in the broader community except where this was very interesting . . . we have to hop . . . in Lubbock, they knew nothing about it. That was where President Smith was from. The newspaper did not bring it up. TV was not the big thing, and so on. But by the time, oh, I guess in the mid session, something like that, it grew. I am afraid it is back, you know. With representative government, you know, it is one step forward and two steps back, on and on and on.
FM: I would be curious, after the scandal and the Dirty Thirty, your profile changed in the Legislature. I read recently that you gave an interview and talked about the Speaker of the House talking to the media and not even recognizing there were women in the Legislature.
SF: Oh, that was the governor. That was the governor, because Martha Griffin, who was the Congress woman from Michigan, came down. I was not there, I was back in Corpus Christi . . . and then I read the paper the next day and saw where the governor, Governor Smith, who was, I must say, always polite, and I put great credence on politeness, I must say . . . he said, it was wonderful she was down and maybe some day they would have a woman in the Legislature. So, after I read that, I took my calling card up to the governor's office and just left it there, that I was indeed in the Legislature. I had a lot of that stuff . . . for example, this is where I saw what I would call the mistreatment of women there. At that time, often they would assume I was an employee. "Who do you work for?" The guards would blow their whistle and say I could not park in the Legislative spot. See, I was the only woman in the House. Jordan was in the Senate. Then after they would know I was in the Legislature, they would be nicer to me. But that did not still my resentment and really suppressed anger because I knew how they were treating women. I am just so sorry that I did not . . . and, you know, this is hindsight - it came only towards the end of my two terms there . . . did not lead a march. Probably I could not have gotten all the women . . . out of there, all the women that worked there, starting in every office in the Capitol - that government would come to a dead stop. And they were just treated miserably. I hope it is better now.
FM: I will take you back a little bit further. You went to the University of Texas to the law school and I think you were one of the few women there at the time.
SF: Yes, I was 3 in a class of 800. And we were big and that is where I first knew Bob Lanier. I spotted him there as probably one of the 5 most intelligent law students. There was no question about it. And, do you know what? He was going to be a labor lawyer which I was sympathetic to, of course. That was another experience. And I had what I called the protective cloak there because my grandfather had been one of the earliest professors there well after he was on the Corps. And so, a lot of the teacher professors were my father's classmates or it had my grandfather as their professor. And that is what I call my protective cloak. I had never, from the professors, had any embarrassment, but we did not have our own restroom. We used the staff. They just never thought of accommodating women lawyers frankly at that stage. And I would go into that place and I would find women crying. I remember one particular . . . because of the way she was embarrassed in criminal law. This was one of the things to do - to get a woman to stand up and embarrass her about particular criminal cases. So that was that experience there but I made a lot of wonderful friendships and I would not give that experience up but I must say, 20 years later, I went to the Legislature and my colleagues who had gone to the greener pastures of lobbying and the ratio was . . . the whole attitude was about the same.
FM: Maybe you could contrast that a little bit. I know you have taught law classes at University of Houston, Texas Southern University, other places, access to that kind of education has certainly changed over the years.
SF: It has, and one of the things that bothered me most . . . it was a given and that was they always made the woman in these hypothetical questions they would give you in Bar exam, in law exams long before the Bar, in law exams, the woman was always a scapegoat of some kind of another. Some ridicule. You know, here was this woman jay walking or whatever. It was always that kind of thing. And I have asked students now and I think that is over with. And I remember asking my daughter who went to law school, I said, "Well, what do you all do when these things come up?" and she said, "We hiss." So, there is a critical mass there now.
[end of side 1]
FM: We would be remiss if we did not touch on this a little bit - your run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1972. And kind of the backdrop for that period was Watergate.
SF: That is right.
FM: Talk about that a little bit and maybe what memories stick out from that race for governor.
SF: Actually, it had never been in . . . well, of course, when I was up at Wells, I used to tell students to put planning in their lives but, you know, do as I say, not as I do. I had never conceived of the notion of running for governor. Down there in Corpus Christi, there was one woman that was in the city council and she was so disparaged that I would say "It will be at least 10 years before a woman on her own is elected to anything." But what happened is I thought we really had . . . we did have momentum on reform and there was no one else running. And we tried to meet the nucleus of the Dirty Thirty. And they were all much more realistic than I. And, you know, they would say, "Well, we do not have the money to run for a statewide race," whatever, whatever. And I got in it simply through a process of elimination. I had no idea that those other people had anything like reform on their mind. I had been in Texas politics long enough to know that. And I thought there was a possibility to do things. So, that is how I came to it. And Creekmore Fath (sp?) was my campaign manager. My base actually was the Mexican American, to a great extent, was labor down in Corpus Christi, primarily the steel workers and students. The students were such an active part of my race that when I would go out on the campaign trail, people would come up to me and say, "My son or daughter at the University in Austin told me to come out and see you." It was just the reverse sort of, of the more typical kind of thing. So, I will tell you one thing -- when your endurance is tested, you find out you have more than you think you have, for one thing, and it has made me very sympathetic to campaigners, and God knows how they are doing this thing on the national level. I mean, it is beyond me.
FM: You find out what a large state Texas is.
SF: Oh, do you, and I did not see a lot of it, really. And one of the things I think is the most important thing about campaigning is seeing people and when it is just photo ops, you do not learn. But a campaign can be a big learning experience and it for sure was for me. One of the things, and you know, you find out about how people live . . . as a matter of fact, I learned to drink just tap water and not ask for ice, and I still have that habit, you know? I remember on of the most, that Mickey Leland insisted on taking me to the Longshoreman Hall. And, you know, they were then divided I think to African American and white. We had to get there before 5 o'clock in the morning. And I shook hands with these people. And it was enough to where it made a deep impression on me, the numbers of longshoremen that had disfigured hands from the kind of work they did. You know, that is the kind of thing you are just not aware of unless you have that immediate experience. Oh, and there were so many. I remember going with Joe Bernal who was then state senator, down into the Valley. And, of course, his Spanish was fluent, you know, and there was someone picking grapefruit off the tree. That was when labor was still critical of the migrant workers coming on. And, I mean, there is just that picture I can remember because now happily labor is embracing them. But organized labor wasn't then. And I can still remember the man up on the ladder pulling the grapefruit off and Senator Bernal speaking in Spanish and, you know, there was a commonality there and he said, indeed he was from across the river, and so forth. So, t here are a lot of other memories, I guess, of many, many others.
I remember a woman came out to the airport . . . My cousin had secured a DC3, and one time, I looked out the window as we were flying to El Paso and a dust storm had come up and the cars below were going faster than we were. You know, the storm was coming in. But anyway, towards the end of the campaign, I think it was the day of the first primary - this woman came up and handed me a ring and she said she was a witch. Not in a derogatory sense but one of those free Christian groups that had some support. Now, anyway, she gave me this ring which was a crystal and it was, I guess, the runoff. And I was in San Antonio trying to do something and had my hand up and the ring broke. And I thought, maybe that is it. And, as it turned out, it really was it.
FM: Even so, despite the broken ring, you came very close.
FM: What are your thoughts? You have had a long time to think about that. Things you might have done differently or regrets?
SF: Well, that, you know . . . and that is why this book I have never written, that people have kept after me about, because I am only living the present and work towards the future. And what is gone is gone. I do not think I would have lasted more than 1 term. And I think the Republicans might have won that year instead of the next two times down the road because I had the late Senator Hines' mother tell me at a dinner that Governor Reagan had been very interested in this race and then, of course, there is all this stuff. And I think that Grover would have defeated me in the general. That is my take on it.
FM: And then, you also moved to the national stage in politics; actually, the first woman ever nominated for the presidency?
SF: Well, what happened about that, Frank, is that, and I told her I would always make this point: I got back from Miami and I almost did not go because I had pneumonia, but I went over there on antibiotics because, you know, after Eugene McCarthy left, lost . . . he went over to the Riviera. And I thought I am not going to end that way. I will do that later. But that was a very short campaign and a very . . . really lot of fun. I got back and I had a call from Judge Serity Hughes. Well, I took that call. She had helped me a lot in latest _______. She said she had seen this in the paper about my name being placed in nomination and she wanted me to know that she had been the first woman either in 1940 or 1944, and her name had been placed in nomination but it was withdrawn before the vote so the men would not be angry about it. And I said, "Thank you for the information, Judge Hughes. I will always make a point that you were the first woman to have your name placed in nomination." So it is a long way to saying it had happened before. But I can remember very clearly, Frank, thinking you may not get a vote because the Texas delegation was headed, of course, by Dolf Brisco who defeated me in the runoff and they were just having a terrible time getting any votes for me. And I just thought of it last night - Mickey Leland had gone over to the Puerto Rican group and had gotten 2 votes there for me. But I came in second to Eagleton. And the only footnote to that thing, and I think it has been written someplace is that it was as if the experience never happened. For example, they had a short list of people they called. Anyway, I never had the courtesy of a call. But that is all ancient history and 8 years later, I was there in San Francisco when Geraldine Ferrara was on the inside rather than the outside, because Pierre Selinger . . . I was head of the McGovern delegation and I had run as a McGovern person the whole time I decided 1-1/2 years before to support him for president. And Pierre Selinger was so T'd off that my name was placed in nomination that he took my phone away from me.
FM: That is interesting. I am going to bring you back to Houston now a little bit. You came here I think around 1980?
SF: No, see, my term was up in January of 1973 and when I came back, I was doing what I called singing for my supper because I was sort of on the lecture circuit. None of the fees like they get today. But I did a good deal of that. And then, I taught first at Texas Southern, I taught, of course, on Legislation, and I ran in 1974 but did very poorly against the incumbent. And I was between a rock and a hard place there because under the reform legislation that was passed, primarily because of common cause in that Legislature, the one after I served in, there was a provision that if there were campaign irregularities, a candidate could bring a lawsuit but you had to be a candidate. And that was really my motivation. It was never understood. It was like this had been some political ploy, a publicity ploy. It was not that. But be that as it may. So, I went and then I taught at U of H after that one year. And then I went to Wells in 1976. So, I had been here before. And I was at Wells as the first woman president up there from 1976 to 1980. And so, I came back in 1980. No, I took my voting up to New York and I was in a real Republican district. It was wonderful. I mean, as far as they were concerned, Democrat was equated with Taminy Hall.
FM: Who were some of the community leaders back then, do you recall? Any recollections of those people?
SF: Well, of course, politically, Billy Carr was very prominent. Where I found my first work was with the Dominican Sisters and I have stayed . . . they are just celebrating their 125th year here.
FM: We are doing a proclamation for them.
SF: Oh, how great, because that is where I met them. I met them standing out there trying to protect the Salvadorian refugees and I have worked very closely with them all these years.
FM: Which kind of brings up a point. Some cities are not open to outsiders.
SF: Oh, I know, but you know, there was an article . . . When I talked to Richard Shaw about the whole immigration thing, who I think is really a great addition to our community, who is head of the AFL-CIO down here, he told me that the immigrants had really revitalized a little of these towns and what is called the ______ Midwest. They have had such problems. And I just filed that away. And then, I noticed where some town is rethinking the ordinance it had about not renting to undocumented because the whole economy is just dying out without them. I hope that this ______ phobia or whatever you want to call this stuff that is going on now will be overtaken by a more rational approach.
FM: How do you think Houston, not so much talking about today but since you have been here, how has it changed in that regard?
SF: The diversity here is absolutely extraordinary. I mean, as I said yesterday, here I am hearing about these Somali women refugees that are having such a hard time, and I intend to look further into the whole refugee issue here. That is going to be some additional educating that I will do myself because we live in an ever-changing world. It is difficult to keep up with it but there are things, and I think here in Houston, there are so many things that have a global aspect to them. I must go back though about how Houston was when I would come back here in the late 1970s, and a reporter would ask me, "Well, what are you doing up at the college?" Well, that was during the second oil embargo. I had read a report that said colleges would be closing over the energy problem, so I got right on that and we had a consultant and everyone in the village and the college were cooperative. And we were able to really achieve conservation-wise, only conservation. But I noticed when I came down here and said I was talking about conservation, it was simply the end of the conversation. I hope we are changing on that, you know. There is going to be a Peek oil conference here in October and I almost somehow so personalized the thing I feel like I am part of that ice melting in the Arctic. Do you know? It is something that is really pressing that needs to be done and yet, our urban life is so contrary to what we need to do. Transportation. I live on the 18th floor. But that is one change I hope we will see here. And I understand there are two different groups of mayors. Is that correct? On climate change? And he is one of one group or the other. I do not know the difference in them.
FM: We can talk about that later. I will give you some more information on it. But yes, he shares your concern, I will put it that way. Back to politics a little bit. In 1990, you participate in something called TOES - The Other Economic Summit?
SF: Oh, yes, The Other Economic Summit.
FM: The G7 summit was held here in Houston and you participated in The Other Economic Summit. Tell me how that came about.
SF: Well, I don't know. Someone called me. It was a very interesting experience because the universities, and I will not name them because this is only hearsay on my part but all at the end, they pulled out as for a place for meetings or for accommodations like dormitories, so there was nothing. And these people were coming in here. Morehead is one of the, some would call it instigators up in New York and I see his name from time to time. Morehouse or Morehead. Anyway, Jim Hightower, that was before we had an all Republican state government, Jim Hightower was Commissioner of Agriculture and he spread his wings wide. He sent a person named King down here. I think his name was John King. He is into windmills now but he was then working for Jim Hightower. And he got whatever we got together at the last minute. And it was about the poverty in the world. Not the 7 but the other economic. I remember one, and I think I was on it and I remember getting figures together on infant mortality in the 3rd and the 5th wards because it is very, very high. And one of the panels was on instead of the 7 riches countries, the 7 poorest countries. And then, in another thing, I really grew very sympathetic to the independents of Puerto Rico. I mean. And I have told Puerto Ricans, you know, when this ever comes up, I am there. And I did not know, you know, we use it as a military base primarily. It was just the whole thing. I learned . . . you know, you learn about yourself or what you don't know. I became very simpatico with the Puerto Rican situation. Of course, it is dormant now. A lot of them are in prison and you know, one thing or the other. But you asked me about the other economic summit and that is one thing I really got out of it. And every time I see something . . . he was called Lulu then. He is the Brazilian president now and he has had a rocky road but Brazil is one of those up and coming places - no question about it. But I can remember that Cardenas who ran a strong race, who was mayor and the son of another, the president, I guess, that expropriated the oil, anyway, he was here and I had dinner with him and I said to him, "Why didn't you," . . . you know, when the machines broke down or whatever the excuse was, he would have probably won that election, and he said, "Well, we would have had trouble with the North," meaning the U.S. And that is all he said about it. But when Lulu was up speaking, the translator they had gotten to translate from the Portuguese was not up to it and Cardenas went up and did a beautiful job of translating. So, those were some of the high points. It was an interesting experience.
FM: You fought many causes here in Houston for little people and maybe the people and the groups and the organizations and the causes that society . . .
SF: Some were voiceless.
FM: Society shuns, yes.
SF: They are voiceless. I can remember, you know, and I always will give Caroline Farb credit for that because she was on the AIDS thing. The AIDS thing was just, you know, you keep seeing this unidentified disease that seems to be primarily among the gay community, you know, and that was something that was shunned here at the outset.
FM: So, that kind of concern/activism, is that . . . I am going to ask you maybe what do you see as the spirit of Houston or the essence of Houston, or describe Houston.
SF: Well, the thing that amazes me about Houston is it is a learning process in itself. I remember at the Junior League whatever indoctrination they gave us, you were to study the whole city. Well, it was simple enough to do that in 9 months in Corpus Christi, but there is so much here, I mean, that I find out . . . every week, there is something like these Somali women that I did not know about. And then, two weeks ago, this St. John downtown, that extraordinary African American church that has preschooled and schooled the first few grades for children that have AIDS or whose parents have AIDS. That is why I say - it is a learning experience. And so, I don't really want to generalize because something I may say there is no one taking care of, there is someone. It just often is the resources are so strained. The resources. Like, I saw a justice worker center over here in the Heights now. They are doing very important work and they are living sort of hand to mouth, you know, as a nonprofit. But they find . . . they told me if an Anglo person that sounds like an Anglo gets on the phone and calls the employer who has not paid or only paid half, sometimes that is all it takes to get a little fairness for these migrants. So, you know, there is a lot going on here and I think that is what I like about it.
FM: I will ask you to be a little bit philosophical for a couple of questions here and maybe self-examining. What do you think your most significant contribution to Houston has been?
SF: I cannot judge that, and I have often thought why do you always take these things up? And I can remember my mother telling me, "Don't be concerned with those that have more or as much as you, but those that have less." And I heard that so long ago. I do not know if that is it. And certainly, I am no Dorothy Day and I like my luxuries and all that kind of stuff, and I liked a lot of things of the material world. I would never question that. But so many people are . . . and now, it is a whole society. I will just leave it at that.
FM: You have come in contact with many community leaders -- we have talked about some of them here -- over the years, and you have come in contact with ordinary folks. Is there anybody at all who maybe pops into mind and stands out and made an impression . . .
SF: Well, the people, and even with the language barrier that I had because my Spanish is muy poquito, these people that were involved and they were often peasants, country people, in Salvador that followed liberation theology, that was an extraordinary experience, and I saw it in that President Molino, I think is his name, of Bolivia. He was on Jon Stewart last week. And Jon Stewart was saying, "How did you come up? You were a poor farmer," etc., etc. And he said, "We all have human rights." And so, sometimes you get the most eloquent expression from people that are not academicians or whatever else but it is from the heart. That is one thing I think is so important about travel, and I think it is absolutely imperative now. But, you know, of the sort of world figures, the one that struck me and I know he is not popular in his own country for a variety of reasons, I am sure, but the one that struck me was Gorbachov. I went to the summit with a group of women called Women for a Meaningful Summit in Geneva when Reagan met Gorbachov for the first time and Gorbachov came to see us and shake hands. I was so taken by his attentiveness. He was willing to stand there and listen to whatever we were saying at the time. And then, the next year, I was in Moscow for a peace conference . . . oh, I know what it was - it was following the 1985 women's conference the UN sponsored in Nairobi. He came in and he spoke and he sat down and he listened. He listened until the lunch break and then he left. And I was so taken by that, by both occasions, because that is not usually what we see of people that are heavily scheduled, who make the appearance and that is it. And that stands out in my mind of these, you know, leaders, people whose names you know and so on and so forth.
FM: You have been very patient. I am going to maybe ask you a final question to think about. Take a minute and think about it if you wish. The people watching this 10 years from now or 20 years from now - what would be some of the things you maybe want them most to know about Houston during your time here?
SF: I think I would say at the most hopeful is trying to live in the world because that world 10 years from now is going to be very different. What kind of world it is, we don't know, and that takes me back to the Constitution and what we are destroying there. So, I don't know but unless there is some massive breakthrough in technology, we are going to have to share with other parts of the world. I think we are going to have to live . . . I mean, that is my notion - I will be gone but I don't think we can keep on as we are. I mean, the wastefulness. What is it? You know, we are such a small percentage of the population of this world and we consume something like 34%. I don't know what. You know, when I look at this thing and think how we are bound and determined as national policy to control Middle East oil, it enrages me. That is greed. We should find another way to do, another way, and leave their oil where it is. But we have not accepted that yet. We have not accepted that as national policy. And I hope we pass that point in 10 years. I hope that this terrible foolishness of war - but I see no change in that. People make money on it. Arms live longer than people. And I don't see any end to that, which can only be disaster. This planet will go on until something hits it but what shape we are going to be in and, you know, you can say, oh people have pulled out of other things but I guess you can hope for the best and that is about it.
FM: Well, thank you very much.