South Carolina has a very poor record of electing women to political office. The Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics is working to encourage and empower women to seek elective office, particularly in South Carolina. On their web site, they point out that SC ranks last in the nation in the percentage of women in public office. Only 8.8% of the membership of the General Assembly is female, this in a state whose population is 51.3% female. Only four women have ever been elected to statewide office.
Years ago, a scholar of women’s history asked me why I was devoting my life to documenting the careers of old white men. I was actually happy to have the question, because it allowed me to discuss our collections at SCPC.
We document all aspects of our society, including women and minorities. I’m very proud that of our 101 collections, fifteen are of women or women’s organizations, including the papers of Inez Tenenbaum, one of those four women elected to statewide office. And in many of our collections, and particularly major ones such as those of senators Olin Johnston and Fritz Hollings, women’s issues are addressed in all their complexity. And the papers of the League of Women Voters are wonderfully rich and warrant a great deal more study than they are currently receiving.
The opportunity to work with legislators like Harriet Keyserling and Liz Patterson has been rewarding professionally and personally as my admiration for both ladies only grew over the years as I came to know them better and better.
Recently, I began working with the Institute drafting biographical profiles of South Carolina’s prominent women politicians to be added to their web site page devoted to the “History of SC Political Women,” which can be found under Candidates. I have not written solely about our donors such as Congresswoman Clara McMillan and SC House member Candy Waites. I’ve also written about leaders like Republican pioneer Thomasine Mason and SC House member Irene Rudnick.
Currently, I’m at work on a sketch of a woman who is serving in one of the highest offices in South Carolina, Chief Justice Jean Toal. This has been a labor of love and I am enjoying myself.
Contributed by Herb Hartsook