SOUTH CAROLINIANA LIBRARY
UNIVERSITY SOUTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY
MODERN POLITICAL COLLECTIONS
Harriet Keyserling Papers, 1965-1998
The papers of Harriet Keyserling (b. 1922) document her life, particularly her service in the South Carolina House of Representatives, 1977 to 1993, where she represented Beaufort County, and her expertise on some of the most critical public issues of the day, especially education, the environment, and nuclear waste. Highly respected by other legislators, she was once described by Dick Riley as "more given to quiet research, serious conversation, and careful organization—and less to the smoke-filled-room politics of much big talk and little listening."
For more information about Ms. Keyserling and her memoir, Against the Tide: One Woman's Political Struggle, read the Spring 1999 edition of Caroliniana Columns, a publication for the Friends of the South Caroliniana Library.
Mrs. Keyserling became only the second non-lawyer to serve on the House Judiciary Committee. She also served on the Education, Public Works, and Ways and Means committees, the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy, and the Joint Legislative Committee on Cultural Affairs, which she chaired from its inception until 1991. She served Governor Dick Riley as an advisor on energy issues, and from 1979 to 1982 was a member of Congress' Advisory Panel on Nuclear Waste Disposal. The collection is a primary resource for documenting contemporary society and state government.
Harriet Keyserling worked within the system to pass important bills and promote a wide-ranging and progressive agenda. Major legislation with which she is associated forms a long list including the South Carolina Energy Conservation and Efficiency Act of 1992, Southeastern Interstate Low-Level Waste Compact, Energy Tax Credit Bill, Accommodations Tax, Health Care Power of Attorney, the Prohibition of Nuclear Waste from Foreign Countries, and that creating the Joint Legislative Committee on Cultural Affairs.
The collection further contains evidence of strong leadership on behalf of important bills which she was unable to see passed into law, including one to remove the sales tax from food and another to limit the length of the legislative session.
Born in New York City in 1922 to Isador and Pauline Hirschfield, both immigrants from Eastern Europe, Harriet Keyserling attended public schools and graduated with honors with a degree in economics from Barnard College in 1943. In 1944 she married Dr. Herbert Keyserling, a native of Beaufort, and relocated to his hometown. There Mrs. Keyserling became involved in local affairs and served on numerous civic and cultural boards while her four children were growing up. In 1974 she became the first woman elected to the Beaufort County Council. Mrs. Keyserling ran for Council because she "saw that the County Council was not doing enough for education. Our schools were on shaky ground after integration, and public support was fading fast." Among her achievements in two years on County Council was the creation of a library consortium consisting of the Technical College of the Low Country, the Beaufort campus of the University of South Carolina, and the Beaufort Public Library, thereby eliminating duplication of services and greatly enhancing the availability of resources for Beaufort County citizens.
With reference to her sixteen years of service in the South Carolina House of Representatives, Mrs. Keyserling has written (in her recently published autobiography, Against the Tide: One Woman's Political Struggle)—"what was most important to me as a legislator were the issues, the friendships, the victorious battles, the feeling that I had contributed towards the improvement of some people's day-to-day lives."
Education was a fundamental issue for Harriet Keyserling. Dick Riley described her as "one of those responsible leaders willing to risk personal political security by fighting openly for public investment in improving schools and the lives of our children. She was a key member of the small group of legislators, called the Smurfs by the press, who felt that talk about education was not enough." She was instrumental in the passage of the comprehensive Education Improvement Act (EIA), which addressed such issues as academic standards, teacher evaluation and salaries, student testing and comparisons between schools and districts, special programs for gifted and talented students, and advanced placement programs.
In 1980 Mrs. Keyserling approached Governor Riley about creating a Task Force on the Arts. This ultimately "laid the foundation for building an infrastructure for the arts in South Carolina." In 1985 the Joint Legislative Committee on Cultural Affairs (JLCCA) was born out of this effort, and she chaired the committee from its creation until 1991. While the Task Force had been dependent upon the governor, the JLCCA was an entity created by legislation and was dedicated to enhancing cultural endeavors and activities across the state.
Mrs. Keyserling announced her decision to retire from the House of Representatives in 1992. Her son, Billy Keyserling, was elected to succeed her. Since leaving office, she has remained active on the Spoleto Festival Board of Directors, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, the Beaufort Arts Council, and the Palmetto Project.
The Harriet Keyserling papers currently consist of fifty linear feet of material dating from 1965 to 1998. Like most legislator's collections, they are divided into two main series: public and personal. Public papers, by far the larger of the two series, document Keyserling's tenure in the South Carolina House of Representatives, 1977 to 1993, and the subject areas in which she developed expertise and in which she continues to have an impact, including the arts, Beaufort County, education, and energy.
Keyserling was active both in promoting and securing public funding for the arts. These activities, on behalf of the state and Beaufort County, are well documented within the collection. Papers relating to her service on the board of the Spoleto Festival, the South Carolina Humanities Council, and the Southern Arts Federation, in which she participated as a private citizen, are included with her private papers.
Beaufort County materials relate to the arts, education, and energy, but each of these files is limited to Keyserling's interests and efforts in Beaufort County. Education files include materials relating to the Beaufort County Board of Education, including the board's struggle to gain fiscal independence from the Beaufort County Council, as well as papers relating to the board's 1983 indictment for spending funds not allocated to it. Other Beaufort County files relate to activities and events in specific areas of the county, such as Hilton Head, Fripp Island, and Port Royal.
Education files illustrate Keyserling's belief that it is the state's duty to provide every student with a balanced and complete education. Keyserling was instrumental in passing both the Education Improvement Act (EIA) in 1984 and Target 2000, the 1989 addendum to the EIA. One substantial aspect of these acts was the inclusion of arts education in the public schools. Higher education files relate chiefly to the Technical College of the Low Country, located in Beaufort County, and to the Beaufort campus of the University of South Carolina, and the proposed consolidation of the two institutions.
Energy files include materials on Keyserling's work on the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy. Among the files relating to the committee are records of the Energy Policy Panel, which Keyserling created to recommend a long-range policy for energy planning and specific legislative actions needed to implement that policy. Oil overcharge files relate to the disbursement of money received by the state of South Carolina from a settlement with oil companies which had overcharged during a period of federal petroleum price controls.
Private papers document Keyserling's personal interests and activities before, during, and after her service in the General Assembly. Of particular interest are files regarding the Spoleto Festival and Penn Center. Spoleto Festival papers reveal her role in 1994 in securing financial assistance through the General Assembly to keep the festival out of bankruptcy.
Penn Center papers relate to the involvement of Keyserling and her husband with the St. Helena Island organization as members of the boards of directors and trustees. The Center was established in 1862 to aid freedmen. Its mission has evolved over time. Always focused upon improving the lot of the local African-American population, in the 1990s it has taken as its purpose the preservation of the Sea Island history, culture and environment. Materials from 1965 to 1970 relate to Dr. Herbert Keyserling's membership on the board of trustees. Also included are materials relating to a partnership between the Penn Center and the University of South Carolina, a partnership which emphasized the development of an early childhood education program at the Center.
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