Frankie Carter Randolph, first publisher of the Texas Observer and a force for social justice and political liberalism in Texas during the 1950s and 1960s, was born on January 25, 1894, in Barnum, Texas, the daughter of William T. and Maude (Holley) Carter. When she was three her family moved to the lumber town of Camden, where she lived for the next seven years and where her father began to build a fortune in the lumber business. The family then moved to Houston, where Frankie went to public and private schools; later she attended Baldwin preparatory school at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. A close friend recalled that "she was `churched' (kicked out) by the Baptists for dancing; she was arrested at fifteen for riding horseback while wearing her brother's shoulder holster and gun in Hermann Park....She left some of the best schools because she was bored." Frankie Carter studied in Europe and on June 14, 1918, married Robert D. Randolph, a pioneer World War I naval corps pilot and later a prominent Houston banker. They had two daughters. Frankie Randolph was one of the founders of the Houston Junior League and served as its president in the 1920s. She was prominent in equestrian circles, the League of Women Voters, and various charities. During the Great Depression she was a volunteer in the Social Service Bureau. A backer of President Franklin Roosevelt, she fought for city manager government, city planning, public housing, and better drainage in low-income areas.
In 1952 she donated $1,000 to Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaign and helped organize Houston precincts. Among her political goals was the elimination of the poll tax and of racial segregation. Later that year the state Democratic executive committee, following the lead of Democratic governor Allan Shivers, endorsed the Republican nominee for president, Dwight Eisenhower. Mrs. Randolph then became a leader of the "loyal Democrats" who opposed the influence of the "Shivercrats" and sought to commit Texas Democrats to support of their party's national nominees. She later helped form the Democrats of Texas, which fought with the state Democratic executive committee for the balance of the decade. In 1954 Mrs. Randolph was among the founders of the liberal periodical the Texas Observer. As the burden of meeting its deficits devolved upon her, she became its publisher. Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s she was hostess at the "Wednesday Club" luncheons at the Observer's Houston branch office, sometimes attended by seventy or eighty people.
Frankie Randolph was elected Democratic national committeewoman from Texas in 1956 over the active opposition of conservative Democrats and United States senator Lyndon B. Johnson, whom she considered an opportunist. Her Harris County Democrats were one of the major forces behind the election of liberal United States senator Ralph W. Yarborough in 1957. Her influence was secured beyond Yarborough's thirteen-year term by the ascension to the federal bench, under Yarborough's sponsorship, of her friend and associate Woodrow Seals of Houston and the liberal William Wayne Justice of Tyler. Taking into account controversiality as well as importance, Frankie Randolph was to Texas what Eleanor Roosevelt was to the United States. She was as comfortable at a precinct meeting in a black neighborhood as she was at the River Oaks Country Club. Her wealth gave her an easy familiarity with men of power, but she cared about working people, the union movement, poor people, racial equality, social justice, and peace. Some politicians feared and disliked her, for she minced no words when they came to her seeking her support. Earthy, blunt, and honest, she had more independent political power than any woman in Texas history. Mrs. Randolph's power arose not only from her wealth and her moral strength but also from her hard work. With the help of volunteers she organized the files of Harris County precincts, making thousands of telephone calls and attending, she said, thousands of precinct meetings. In her brief speeches to her fellow Democrats she usually made one point: organize. This precinct-based urban organizing cast her movement up against old-time boss politics as it was then exemplified in Texas by Johnson and Samuel T. Rayburn, speaker of the House. As national committeewoman, Randolph led the Harris County Democrats to sweeping victories in the county and legislative elections of 1958. In 1960 she refused to go along with the movement in Texas to nominate Johnson for the presidency and was replaced as national committeewoman; but she remained a presence in Texas Democratic politics. She was depressed by the decline of the liberal movement in Texas after Johnson became president in 1963, but she continued to take pride in what she had achieved and in people she believed in. She died on September 5, 1972, in Houston and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery there.