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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Frances Farenthold, December 14, 1974. Interview A-0186. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Texas politics and culture

Farenthold discusses various aspects of Texas culture that have impacted politics in that state. Here, she focuses specifically on the rural-urban split, religious fundamentalism, the frontier tradition of rugged individualism, and suburbanization. In addressing each of these topics, she pays particular attention to gender and race, thus revealing various tensions that permeated Texas politics during the post-World War II years.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Frances Farenthold, December 14, 1974. Interview A-0186. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
I'm asking you really, is there a cultural difference.
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
I know, people have asked me that and I could argue either way on it. I know that traditionally, it is to say, "Yes." And then I have seen places where women have a hard time outside the South, too. Sometimes, I wonder if it is maybe a more rural-urban thing rather than a difference in . . . I mean, the areas that are predominatly rural, I can take that from my own experience. I am always a disaster in rural areas.
JACK BASS:
In other words, as a candidate?
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
Yes. And maybe that is the difference rather than a regional North-South. It's the rural-urban. I know that that goes against your . . .
WALTER DE VRIES:
You know, we are trying to write a book on southern politics. And the premise is that southern politics, whether male or female, or somehow different from the politics in other regions of the country. But if it is based on the rural-urban in the case of women, then there probably isn't much difference.
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
I think that should be considered.
JACK BASS:
How do you define the role of religious fundamentalism in terms of shaping political attitudes?
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
Would you ask that again?
WALTER DE VRIES:
Be precise. (laughter)
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
Yeah, I know. Because I'm not part of that movement.
JACK BASS:
How would you define religious fundamentalism in terms of shaping political attitudes?
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
Well, I think that it is strong. The thing that strikes me most, I guess that it is part of the political situation in terms of the traditional roles. This is where I was most struck by it, because I could never get past that point, the traditional roles of men and women. And I go to Alabama on that, when I debated Phyllis Schflay in Birmingham on the Equal Rights Amendment and someone stood up and asked me if I was a Christian. And the inference was that anyone who espoused such things as I was couldn't be. And I can't even get into the other political attitudes, because I do think that that has so shaped the concept of women's roles.
JACK BASS:
What other issues do you see associated with that? In terms of liberals and conservatives?
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
Well, first I think that you run into the distinction between the races. I think that is very prevalent. Everybody in his or her place. And I think that has enormous ramifications politically. "For the preservation of the status quo." I remember being in Witchita Falls in one of the '72 campaigns and a man said, "You just can't mention the fact that you are a Catholic, that you are a woman or that you are a wet." I mean, I was just shutout. And the basic core of that is . . . well, I don't know which came first.
JACK BASS:
What role does the frontier tradition play in Texas politics? Particularly in terms of . . .
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
Guns.
JACK BASS:
Could you go beyond that, in terms of rugged individualism shaping political attitudes and in terms of providing state services for people? I mean, it usually is pictured as big wealth wanting to keep taxes down.
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
Yeah, but it's more than that. I can recall being stunned when I first went to the legislature because I had been in cities, but I hadn't been over the state and I was simply appalled by the reaction of many of the legislators from West Texas and their hostility toward Mexican-Americans. I mean, even more than the black situation, we run into that. Now, whether that is frontier, and I guess that in part it was. The conquerors or what have you. It is appalling. West Texas could match deep South Texas anytime on that subject. I mean, they still fight things like bi-lingual education, you know. "This is America, this is Texas. If they don't learn that language at home, it's their hard luck." I think that the frontier theme has had a lot to do with the treatment and the attitude towards Mexican-Americans. It's all pretty appalling.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Has it changed?
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
Not much.
JACK BASS:
What's the political affect of suburbinization of Texas?
FRANCES FARENTHOLD:
Well, which suburbinization of Texas do you mean? The lilly-white enclaves or something that someplaces may be a little different? One, I think, is just to sort of remove yourself from the problems, and I think that a lot of that goes on. Right now, where we live is all white. They are different from the way that my life was in Corpus Christi. I mean that in just everyday experiences, I don't see any blacks except people that work as domestics. You don't see any Mexican-Americans. And I guess that you can remove yourself and you vote accordingly. If you've had a loss of memory. I found in the legislature, no, it was after I left, but probably the most significant change is the single-member districts. And why? Because the inner city got some consideration that way. I remember a great statement made by the wife of a legislator. Dallas was notorious for having a slate selected, I don't know if you are aware of it, and when they ran countywide, you had to get on that slate, or you would never win.