PLEN Mourns the Loss of Founder Frances “Sissy” Farenthold

Dear Members of the PLEN Community,

With heavy hearts we announce the passing of PLEN’s Founder, Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, on September 26, 2021. To honor her legacy, we at PLEN are taking time to reflect on her important work to advance women’s political leadership in our nation, including her founding of PLEN. Sissy’s vision for PLEN was based on her strong conviction that higher education institutions have a special responsibility to prepare women for leadership in the public arena as it had prepared previous generations of male leaders. She convinced the Carnegie Corporation of New York to make a significant grant that created PLEN in 1978. PLEN continues to express its gratitude for Sissy’s role as PLEN’s founder as well pride in her ongoing advocacy of women’s empowerment and human rights.

Frances “Sissy” Farenthold was a Texas state legislator, women’s college president, human rights activist and the founding president of the National Women’s Political Caucus that worked to elect women to public office.  An alumna of Vassar College and the University of Texas-Austin School of Law, Sissy served in the Texas legislature from 1968 and ran for governor in 1972. Though she lost the gubernatorial race, Sissy gained national recognition, and as a result, was encouraged to run for the Democratic Vice-Presidential nomination — the first woman to do so. In 1976, Sissy became the president of Wells College and continuing to advocate for women’s leadership in the public sphere, led efforts to form PLEN in 1978. Sissy continued to support PLEN after leaving Wells College and continued her work in the public sector as an international human rights activist.

Frances "Sissy" Farenthold
Photo Credit:

According to PLEN’s first executive director, Marianne Alexander, Sissy closely followed PLEN’s development over the years as it grew into a national nonpartisan organization serving greater numbers of women students each year.  On several public occasions she expressed pride in PLEN as one of her most important legacies.

Today, we continue to advance Sissy’s vision for PLEN by hosting seminars and workshops that provide women students with hands-on opportunities to hone their leadership skills and to be introduced to and network with outstanding women leaders already working in the public policy field. We have grown significantly since Sissy started the organization in 1978. Over 43 years, PLEN has trained more than 5,000 women from 300 colleges and universities in 46 states and connected them with leaders and speakers working in Washington, D.C. and beyond. These students experience first-hand how public policy is shaped and implemented at the national level as they prepare to become the next generation of public policy decision makers.

Thank you Sissy for your amazing vision and you will be missed.


The PLEN Board of Directors and PLEN Staff

Leave a Reply