Statement from President Jonathan Gibralter
On the Death of Former Wells President Frances Tarlton “Sissy” Farenthold
Monday, September 27, 2021
To the Campus Community:
I wanted to share the sad news that Frances Tarlton “Sissy” Farenthold, the 13th president of Wells College, passed away yesterday in Houston just six days shy of her 95th birthday.
Sissy was a monumental figure not just in the College’s history but also in national politics. Descended from a long line of prominent legal advocates in Texas, she won a seat in the state’s House of Representatives in 1968 — and became the only woman serving alongside 149 men in the legislature. Four years later, she again broke ground by being nominated for vice president by Gloria Steinem and others at the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami, Fla. Although she ultimately came in second, it cemented her reputation as one of the nation’s most prominent feminists in politics and government.
Later, after two unsuccessful runs for Texas governor, she would head the National Women’s Political Caucus from 1973 to 1975. Then, in 1976, she was recruited to move to upstate New York to become the first woman president of Wells, which had recently celebrated its centennial anniversary and was still a women’s college at the time.
During her time as president, she co-founded the bipartisan Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) in 1978 to encourage college-aged women to pursue a life of public service and leadership. To this day, more than four decades later, PLEN brings several hundred college students to Washington, D.C. each year to experience firsthand how public policy is shaped and implemented at the national level. In addition, the Frances Tarlton Farenthold Wing of the Schwartz Athletic Center was built during her tenure, and it bears her name to this day.
I shared the news of Sissy’s passing last night with the trustees, and Renée Forgensi Minarik ’80 had this to say:
“As a current Wells trustee serving more than four decades after the end of Sissy’s tenure, I certainly appreciate and understand the gift she was to our beloved alma mater and her students. But as a student between 1976 and 1980, all I knew was that if you needed an internship, a guest speaker, an interview or a job connection, you visited Sissy in her unpretentious office in the Bellinzoni building. I never walked away empty-handed . . . President Sissy Farenthold unselfishly shared her experience, her connections and her wisdom with all of us.”
After returning to Houston in 1980, Sissy would continue to serve as an advocate for a variety of progressive causes, including human rights, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the environment. You can read the family’s tribute to her at this link.
Sissy is survived by three children, including George Farenthold II, whose wife Lisa Marsh Ryerson ’81, of course, also served as president of Wells College. The family is planning a private burial this week; a public, in-person memorial service is being planned to be held at the University of Texas law school at a later date, depending on public health conditions.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the entire community, I send my deepest sympathies to George and Lisa and their family as we remember a woman who was a trailblazer, an innovator, and an inspiration to women around the world.
President, Wells College