Mary Elizabeth “Liz” Carpenter started working as a reporter in 1942, covering the White House and Congress for newspapers such as The Austin American-Statesman. In 1960, she joined the staff of then vice presidential nominee Lyndon B. Johnson. During her time at the White House, Carpenter served as executive assistant to the vice president and press secretary to the first lady under Lady Bird Johnson. She was the first woman to hold either position. Following the Johnson Administration, Carpenter grew increasingly involved in the women’s movement. She was a charter member of the National Women’s Political Caucus and national co-chair of ERAmerica.
As a member of the IWY Commission, Carpenter was heavily involved in the planning and execution of the National Women’s Conference. Through her association with ERAmerica, she also coordinated pre-conference events like the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification Assembly on November 18. “If I should die, don’t send me flowers. Just send me three more states,” Carpenter quipped at the fundraiser. The following day, she delivered a speech during the First Plenary Session, highlighting the diversity of experience represented by conference delegates.
Carpenter had returned to Austin in 1976 following the sudden death of her husband, but she soon found her way back to Washington, DC. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the newly created Department of Education. She later served as a member of the White House Conference on Aging under President Bill Clinton. In 1992, publisher Ellen Clarke Temple established the Liz Carpenter Award, annually given to the best scholarly book on the history of women and Texas.