Helen Jane Rehbein Farabee, mental health and human services advocate, was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, on November 12, 1934, the daughter of Wilmer C. and Myra Rehbein. She graduated in 1957 from the University of Wisconsin, where she was the first woman elected student-body president at a Big Ten school. Through her student government work she met Ray Farabee, a native of Wichita Falls, Texas, and president of the University of Texas student body. They were married on December 6, 1958, and while he served in the air force she worked for the Dallas Times-Herald and Better Homes and Gardens. She also served as assistant dean of women at the University of Texas and worked with the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health while her husband completed his law degree. The couple later had two sons.
In 1961 the Farabees moved to Wichita Falls, where Helen's voluntary activities included work with the local mental health and mental retardation board and the Wichita Falls State Hospital. By 1965 she had broadened her activities to a statewide focus and worked with future lieutenant governor William P. Hobby, Jr., in encouraging the state legislature to establish the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. Mrs. Farabee later served as president of the Texas Mental Health Association (1972–74, 1985) and director at large of the National Association of Mental Health. She also was appointed to the Public Committee on Mental Health by first lady Rosalyn Carter. Helen Farabee served on numerous special commissions and planning groups for human services in Texas. She chaired the State Mental Health Code Task Force (1981–83), which culminated its work in the revision of the 1957 Texas mental health code. The revised code was signed by Governor Mark White and became effective in 1983.
In addition to her work in mental health, she served on the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, worked for improved child care, and addressed better services for the elderly through the Special Senate Committee on the Delivery of Human Services. Her work on the Governor's Task Force on Indigent Health Care (1983–85) resulted in landmark state legislation in 1985 that expanded medical care for the poor. She also served on the Governor's Commission for Women and was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1985 for her contributions to volunteerism.
Mrs. Farabee's voluntary work was a tandem effort with her husband, who represented the Thirtieth District in the Texas Senate from 1974 to 1988 and shared her advocacy of improved human services for all Texans. Upon his resignation in the spring of 1988 to become general counsel for the University of Texas, she entered the special election to succeed him in the Senate. However, when a committee of Democratic county leaders in the district did not select her as the candidate for the fall general election, she withdrew from the race.
After this brief foray into politics, she continued her part-time work for the Benedictine Health Resource Center in Austin. In June 1988 she was hospitalized for complications from phlebitis and was diagnosed as having lung cancer. She died in Austin on July 28, 1988, and was survived by her husband, two sons, one brother, and her parents. Helen Farabee's funeral was held at the First Presbyterian Church of Wichita Falls; a memorial service was also conducted at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Austin. She received numerous awards for her voluntary work during her lifetime, and after her death several special memorials were established. These included the Helen Farabee Patient Education Scholarship at the Austin State Hospital, the Helen J. Farabee Public Policy Fellowships for graduate students, offered by the Texas Mental Health Association, and the Helen Farabee Award of the United Way. In February 1989 the Texas Senate sponsored a tribute in her honor.
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The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Claudia Dee Seligman, Texas Women (Dallas: Hendrick-Long, 1989). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
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Activism and Social Reform
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Debbie Mauldin Cottrell,
“Farabee, Helen Jane Rehbein,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 13, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
September 21, 2019
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: