25th Anniversary of SCPC: How we began

To celebrate Congress Week, April 1-7, 2016, South Carolina Political Collections (SCPC) will post daily blogs reflecting on our history and celebrating our 25th anniversary.


Reading Room at the South Caroliniana Library

Modern Political Collections, now SCPC, was created in April 1991 as a division of the University of South Carolina’s main special collections repository, the South Caroliniana Library.  The Caroliniana has long been known for its remarkable holdings of manuscript collections, published materials and visual materials relating to South Carolina and its history.  I worked as the Caroliniana’s Curator of Manuscripts for seven years before establishing SCPC.  It was a thrilling experience, working with a wide array of rich and wonderful collections and meeting fascinating researchers as well as memorable donors of collections.

The creation of SCPC was a result of the decision by U.S. Senator Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings to donate his papers to the University.   The potential his papers represented, in terms of importance, size and complexity, made the University rethink its special collections arrangements.


Our original benefactor

Hollings was a graduate of The Citadel and the USC School of Law.  He began his career of public service as a member of the S.C. House, served as Lt. Governor under George Bell Timmerman, and succeeded Timmerman as governor.  Don Fowler, political scientist and former chairman of the national Democratic Party, has described Hollings as governor (1959-1963) as “The leader who best exemplified the creativity and leadership that transformed the South to a new era of progress and prosperity.…While many have improved and added to the programs that he created, we still work with the basic institutional arrangements he created and we still benefit from them.” [letter to the author, Aug. 19, 1996]

In 1966, Hollings won election to the U.S. Senate.  By 1989, when the University approached Hollings about his papers, he was highly regarded as an active proponent of a strong military, a balanced budget, and social programs designed to help the poor become active contributing members of society.

terry portrait

Shown unveiling a portrait of the late George Terry are then-USC President, Andrew Sorensen; artist, Larry Lebby; USC President Emeritus, John Palms; George Terry’s widow, Lynn Robertson; and then-Dean of Libraries, Paul Willis (2005)

When the University decided to go after the Hollings collection, then-Dean of Libraries George Terry asked me to design our proposal.  I surveyed the field, and found there were few repositories devoted to contemporary political papers, but that we had two in our backyard — at Clemson and Georgia.  The University of Georgia’s Richard B. Russell Library is probably the best congressional repository in the country and has served as our model.

Part of the appeal to Sen. Hollings was that we wanted to build on his collection to create a nexus of holdings that would allow significant studies of modern society, government, and politics.  SCPC’s mission has, from the beginning, been to collect, preserve, and encourage research in private papers documenting South Carolinians and their government at the national and state levels since 1945.


Allen Stokes

Upon SCPC’s creation in 1991, we inherited rich collections to go along with the Hollings papers.  These had mainly been acquired through the efforts of Caroliniana Director Allen Stokes and Field Archivist Tom Johnson.

At our founding, in addition to Hollings, we transferred from the Caroliniana’s Manuscripts Division two major unprocessed congressional collections totaling over 1,300 linear feet, the papers of Senator Olin Johnston and Congressman William Jennings Bryan Dorn, and eleven smaller collections including the papers of the Democratic and Republican parties.  Most of these collections had received minimal attention from the Caroliniana staff, probably because of their size and complexity.

Dean Terry’s vision for Political Collections was challenging.  From our earliest discussions, his vision called for us to eventually merit a building of our own and status as an independent unit of University Libraries.

scpc warehouse

The Warehouse, a/k/a the Old Pearle Building

Our first home was in an old warehouse on the edge of campus.  We spent weeks transferring our collections from the Caroliniana, and soon received three tractor trailer loads of Hollings papers from the Suitland Records Center outside Washington.  We also visited Hollings’ Charleston office in the old Customs Building, where we found a treasure trove — important records from his time as governor.  (Before the term of John Carl West, governor’s papers were considered personal rather than state property.)

Today, we hold 121 discrete collections including the papers of members of Congress, governors, leaders in our state legislature, jurists, both major state parties, journalists, Civil Rights activists, editorial cartoonists, and others.  A significant endowment supports professional and student positions, public programming, professional development for our staff, and a research awards program.  And, we are receiving or have pledged to us the papers of eight members of South Carolina’s current nine member congressional delegation.

Next week we will share additional reflections on SCPC’s history.

–Herb Hartsook

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