The Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) was founded in 1978 by Frances Tarlton "Sissy" Farenthold, president of Wells College. Sissy brought her experiences as a Texas state legislator and candidate for governor to her new role as president of a women’s college, proposing that women’s colleges work together to educate women for public leadership.
With national recognition because her name was placed in nomination for the Vice Presidency at the Democratic National Convention in 1972 and her election as the founding president of the bi-partisan National Women’s Political Caucus, Sissy gained key support for her vision from Ruth Mandel who directed the Center for American Women and Politics and Betsey Wright who headed the National Women’s Education Fund. Ruth and Betsey worked with Sissy to turn her idea into a successful proposal to the Carnegie Corporation of New York. With this major foundation support, PLEN was established in 1978. Programs aimed at preparing women students for leadership in the public arena were initially campus-based.
PLEN created its first Washington-based seminar in 1983 and moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C. in 1989 to expand its program offerings that bring women students to the Nation’s Capital to learn from women leaders about the public policy process. Today, PLEN offers seminars throughout the academic year.
PLEN remains the only national organization whose sole focus is preparing college women for leadership in the public policy arena.
Although roughly 40 percent of the women students participating in PLEN programs come from coed colleges and universities, the majority of PLEN students come from member institutions, primarily women’s colleges, which support PLEN through their annual membership contributions.
Other sources of PLEN support are generated by program fees and contributions by individuals, foundations and corporations. PLEN depends on the generosity of donors to keep its programs affordable for students.