National Press Club

Liz Carpenter, Former Washington Press Club President, Dies at 89

March 22, 2010

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Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson's press secretary during her tenure as first lady and president of the Washigton Press Club in 1954, died March 20 in Austin.

Carpenter was an advocate for women in all aspects of public life and was instrumental in what Helen Thomas described as "our first foot in the door" at the all-male National Press Club. After her term as president of the Washington Press Club, Thomas said in the NPC documentary, Liz Carpenter negotiated an arrangement with the NPC leadership so female reporters could sit in the balcony to cover news-making luncheons.

"They were all scared to death -- the men reporters who were in the Press Club -- that we were going to want to be members," Carpenter recalled during an interivew for the NPC centennial doumentary.

"We didn't want to be members. We thought our events were more glamorous. But we wanted (access to) the newsworthy events. As a result, we just declared war on them," she said.

Club President Alan Bjerga said the NPC mourns her death.

"Liz Carpenter was a legend in Washington journalism. She was president of the Washington Press Club before the two organizations merged, and she was among the fighters who opened all doors to female journalists," he said.

Links two two interviews with Carpenter:

The Wasington Post wrote:

"On the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, Ms. Carpenter was in a Dallas police car being driven to Love Field. There she would board Air Force One, the plane returning to Washington with the body of a slain president and his widow, as well as the Texan who would take the oath of office aboard the plane, his wife standing at his side.

" 'Having been a reporter for 20 years of my life, I knew [Lyndon Baines Johnson] would soon face the press," she recalled, "and they were going to want a statement. I pulled out a card and just started writing. Fifty-eight words: 'This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep personal tragedy. I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help -- and God's.'

"In addition to rising to the occasion, Ms. Carpenter was known for feistiness and sass and had what former Texas governor and close friend Ann Richards described as 'a lifetime of madcap adventures.' "

She moved to Washington after gradating from college, married her high school sweetheart (Leslie Carpenter, also a journalist) and got a job for $25 a week covering Wshington for Michigan newspapers.

As one of the few female reporters in Washington, she covered the last of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's news conferences and several of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt's.

In 1952, Les and Liz Carpenter started Carpenter News Bureau with four employees. She also wrote a weekly column.

She wrote three books, "Ruffles and Flourishes"; "Unplanned Parenthood: The Confessions of a Seventy-something Surrogate Mother," based on her experiences of raising her late brother's young children; and Start With a Laugh: An Insider's Guide to Roasts, Toasts, Eulogies and Other Speeches". She spent five years as a vice president with the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton. In 1971, she helped establish the National Women's Political Caucus.

A link to an NPC oral history with Carpenter: