The legacy of Texas trailblazer Liz Carpenter comes to the silver screen.

By Deborah Hamilton-Lynne


Full disclosure, I was a close friend of Liz Carpenter, and she was a great mentor to me and many other young women pursuing careers in journalism with an interest in women’s issues and politics. I miss her wisdom, sharp commentary and humor every day. When I learned that a documentary of her life and legacy was being made, I wasn’t sure that anyone could capture her essence. My skepticism was put to rest when I attended the premiere of Shaking It Up during SXSW.

Directed by her daughter, Christy Carpenter, and veteran documentary filmmaker Abby Ginzberg, the film explores the making of the larger-than-life force of nature that was Elizabeth Sutherland Carpenter. Beginning with her Texas ancestors that include William Sutherland, who died in the Alamo, aunts who founded the first literary society in Texas and became suffragettes, Liz would become a trailblazer for female journalists and a women’s rights activist throughout her life.

The film parallels the intersection of history with the legacy of Carpenter. She was born in 1910, just days after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Went to D.C. as a reporter in wartime 1942, where she managed to have female reporters included in the membership of the National Press Club. Wrote the moving words spoken by President Johnson after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Became the first woman executive assistant serving Vice President Johnson from 1961 to 1963 before becoming press secretary and chief of staff to Lady Bird in 1963. Was personally acquainted with 12 presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush. Co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1969. And was an ardent proponent of the ERA and women’s rights until her death in 2020.

Liz Carpenter (right) & Lady Bird Johnson

Described as a trailblazer who overcame immense obstacles forging a path for the female journalists, politicians and activists who followed her, the life of Liz Carpenter is beautifully honored in this film. Her legacy is best articulated by Evan Smith at the end of the film. “Liz was joyful in the work that she did. She never tried to get anybody. Never tried to harm anybody. She understood that her role was to be a force for good, to advance the cause of the public interest through her work and to advance the cause of democracy through her work. One of the many things that Liz Carpenter can teach us is to go back to a time when politics was not a blood sport but was about elevating people and the public interest.”

There are many lessons shared in Shaking It Up, insights for young and old. How to make yourself indispensable by managing many tasks, how to be persistent and determined especially if you believe your cause is just, how to live as a truly inclusive visionary and how to do it all with grace and humor.

When people ask me what I think Liz would say about politics today. I answer with her own words: “Anybody against women, against the ERA, should never be voted into office again.”



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