Women’s History Month: Women in Power in South Carolina

With the changing months also comes the changing of South Carolina Political Collections’ small exhibit in the Britain Gallery of Hollings Library.  Women’s History Month is celebrated worldwide every March, and this year is no different.  This month’s theme is “Women in Power” featuring two former representatives from South Carolina’s House of Representatives.  Harriet H. Keyserling and Candy Yaghjian Waites were both adamant advocates of women in politics and the South Carolina education system, just to name two.

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State Representative Harriet Keyserling

Mrs. Keyserling began her political career later in life, but made a lasting imprint on South Carolina politics in her eighteen years of public service.  Education was her passion. She “saw that the County Council was not doing enough for education,” and determined she would help bring about change.  In 1974, Mrs. Keyserling became the first woman elected to the Beaufort County Council.  Among her initiatives, she went on to create a library consortium with other Low Country libraries, eliminating duplication and enhancing availability of resources for the citizens of Beaufort County. 

In 1976, Mrs. Keyserling was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives.  It wasn’t long before Keyserling and other legislators, known as the “Crazy Caucus,” joined forces to advocate for such causes as rules reform, education, the environment, the arts, ethics, and campaign reform.  Mrs. Keyserling was a member of the Joint Legislative Committee on Cultural Affairs; instrumental in the passage of the Education Improvement Act; served on the Ways and Means Committee, the Public Works Committee, the Rules Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy.  In 1992, Mrs. Keyserling announced her decision to retire from the House of Representatives, but she continued her work in the community until her death in 2010.

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Candy Waites campaign card

Candy Yaghjian Waites’ mother was active in the League of Women Voters, which helped to cultivate her interest in public service.  While a student at Wheaton College in Massachusetts in 1964, Waites and her friends held a fundraiser to help get her home to South Carolina to vote in the presidential election.  At this time South Carolina was one of only a few states that did not extend absentee ballots to out of state college students.  While $100 seems like a small amount to pay for a plane ticket, at that time it was expensive.  Not only did she get help from her fellow students, the story was picked up nationally and donations from around the country poured in to help in her plight.  The following spring, Waites addressed the South Carolina Senate concerning amending the absentee ballot law to open it to college students. 

In 1976, Waites was the first woman elected to the Richland County Council.  As a Council member for twelve years, she sat on such boards as the Central Midlands Regional Planning Council Board and the Richland County Coordinating Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect.  In 1988, Waites was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives.  She served for six years.  During her tenure, she was involved in many issues, including child care, education, women in politics, and ethics reform.  Last week, WIS Investigative Reporter Jody Barr visited the Hollings Library to interview Ms. Waites on ethics-related issues.  The piece aired on February 27, 2014. 

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Candy Waites speaks with reporter Jody Barr

Please come by and check out the exhibit featuring Harriet Keyserling and Candy Yaghjian Waites, as well as the Olin D. Johnston and Elizabeth Johnston Patterson exhibit featured in SCPC’s main gallery.  For more information regarding these two great women, or any of our other holdings, check our website.

By: Sara Norman

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