New Finding Aid: Mary Kelly

Since January, I have been completing the processing of the Mary Kelly papers which were started by another student.  This collection is now complete and now available for public use. This collection details her work with the League of Women Voters and her work as an environmental activist.

Mary Kelly knows first hand what a chemical plant can do to the environment. While working on her PhD in organic chemistry at NYU, she worked at a chemical plant .  Discussing her job there, she said “In those days, we dumped into the river, the Hudson. It didn’t go into secure landfills. What you once could do, you can’t anymore. You have to have social responsibility.”

Kelly with House Speaker David Wilkins and Superintendent of Education Barbara Nielsen.

She brought that social responsibility with her when she and her husband moved to South Carolina in 1965.  In 1972 she became a member of the League of Women Voter’s and went on to hold the positions of State League  President, Co-President, Director, Natural Resources Chair, Associate Director, Spokesperson, and Grant Administrator.  As natural resources chair, she wrote many articles for the “Voter” newsletter and she also wrote columns and letters to the editor for several newspapers.  Outside of the League, she has also served on several committees such as the Governor’s Statewide Hazardous Waste Steering Committee and the South Carolina Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy Panel.

Kelly is an opponent of nuclear plants around the country, particularly in South Carolina.  A large portion of this collection is about the Barnwell facility and the Savannah River Site in Aiken.  Kelly wrote numerous articles and editorials concerning these plants and many can be located in this collection.  The topics of these articles include plant safety, waste removal, weapons, and the transportation of nuclear materials within the US and overseas.  She also opposed the Laidlaw Hazardous Waste Landfill in Sumter County saying “We thought it was not a great idea to put [the landfill] near Lake Marion. When we went out there it wasn’t lined, it just had barrels. I thought it was inadequate.”

Kelly has been honored several time for her ardent work for the environment.  Some of these honors include the South Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Conservationist of the Year Award in 1984 and a nomination for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Environmental Awareness Award in 2002. In April 2009, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina held a reception in her honor at their 29th Biennial Convention.

~Virginia W Blake – SCPC Graduate Student

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