History of SC Political Women

Charlotta Bass, photo courtesy of Southern California Library for Social Studies and ResearchCharlotta Bass (1874-1969)

Mrs. Bass was born in Sumter, South Carolina and was a civil rights activist before she moved to California to become the editor of The California Eagle. She became a member of the Progressive Party and in 1952 she was the first African-American woman to run at the national level for Vice President.

Photo courtesy of Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research.

Carol Connor (1950-2004)

Born in Kingstree, South Carolina Connor received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina in 1976. She became an Assistant South Carolina Attorney General and was elected to the South Carolina Family Court in 1983. After serving for five years, Connor became the first woman to serve as a South Carolina Circuit Judge and the first woman to serve as an acting member of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Judicial Department

Virginia CrockerVirginia Leaman "Ginger" Crocker (b. 1951)

Virginia Leaman "Ginger" Crocker represented Laurens County in the S.C. House from 1978 to 1984, where she served on the Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee, the State House Committee; and as House Majority Whip.  The Clinton native graduated from Columbia College in 1973, the same year in which she worked as a Senate page.  After graduation, she worked in the John West administration. After leaving the House, she worked as a Workers' Compensation Commissioner, 1984-1992. While on the Commission, she served as Vice-Chair and was instrumental in reforming the policies and procedures of the Commission and writing the current rules and regulations. In 1996 she was named Executive Director of the House Democratic Caucus where she worked with then Caucus Leader Jim Hodges. As governor, Hodges appointed Crocker to his staff as Director of Intergovernmental and Community Relations. Since 2007, she has served the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission as it's Judicial Director. In addition to all the above, Crocker has worked for Presbyterian College and on a variety of political campaigns and served on several boards.

Mary Gordon Ellis, photo courtesy of the South Carolina State MuseumMary Gordon Ellis (1890-1934)

As a native of Gourdin, South Carolina, Mary Gordon Ellis moved to Rock Hill to attend Winthrop College and to become an educator. After becoming a teacher and principal in the Jasper County School System, she became the first woman superintendent in 1924. She hired a black woman to oversee black children in the school system but was quickly fired for doing this. Four years later, she successfully ran for the SC Senate to become the first woman in the state senate.

Photo courtesy of the South Carolina State Museum.

Carolyn Essig Frederick (c.1906-2000)


Carolyn Essig Frederick represented Greenville County in the South Carolina House for ten years from 1967 to 1976.  A Republican pioneer who campaigned with the slogan, “Carolyn cares,' she was the first Republican woman to be elected to the House.  She was instrumental in passage of the Freedom of Information Act and author of legislation establishing Foster Care Review Boards, the Tuition Grants Program, and the South Carolina Commission on Women. She was born in Atlanta, Ga., to Philip M. and Lillian Essig and received her A.B. degree from Agnes Scott College in 1928. A newspaperwoman and advertising executive, her public service began in 1950 when she became Assistant Director of the Greenville Community Chest and Council, 1950-1953.  From 1958 to 1964, she served as Public Relations Director of the YWCA. Frederick had a long association with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra and was named South Carolina Woman of the Year in 1970.  She received the Order of the Palmetto in 1995.

Elizabeth Hawley Gasque Van Exem (1886-1989)

A native of Blythewood, SC, Mrs. Gasque became the first woman in the US Congress from South Carolina after her husband's death in 1939. She graduated from Greenville Female College in 1907. After her husband's death she was elected to fill the position in Congress as a Democrat. She was not reelected but became an author and lecturer.

Photo courtesy of the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives.

Maggie Wallace Glover, photo courtesy of the South Carolina LegislatureMaggie Wallace Glover (1948- )

Maggie Glover was the first African-American woman to be elected to the SC State Senate. Born in Florence, Glover graduated from Fayetteville State University and received her Masters in Education from Francis Marion College. She was elected to the state senate in 1993 and was previously a member of the House of Representatives from 1989-1992. 

Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Legislature.

Janie Glymph Goree (1921-2009)

South Carolina's first African-American female mayor was Janie Glymph Goree. Born in Newberry County to a family of 11, she worked hard in order to receive an education. She had to attend multiple high schools and despite admission, could not afford to attend South Carolina College. After earning enough money to pay for school, she attended Benedict College and became a teacher. Later Goree received her Masters in Basic Sciences and Mathematics from the University of Colorado. In 1978 she was elected mayor of Carlisle, SC.

Photo courtesy of the South Carolina African American History Calendar 

Harriet Keyserling at desk Harriet Keyserling (1922-2010)

This Democrat and self-proclaimed "New York Jewish liberal," represented Beaufort County in the SC House of Representatives from 1977 until her retirement in 1993.  She was a tireless advocate of the arts, education, and the protection of the environment from nuclear waste and other energy hazards.  She was always active in civic and cultural affairs, but only ran for office at the urging of her family after her children were largely grown and out of the home.  In 1974, at age 52, she became the first woman elected to the Beaufort County Council.  After achieving some success on Council, she waged a successful bid for the House, where she was associated with progressive legislators nicknamed the “Crazy Caucus,” which also included Jean Toal.  She felt her active membership in the National Conference of State Legislatures provided the opportunity to contribute nationally to public life.  Of her sixteen years of House service, Mrs. Keyserling wrote in her remarkable 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."

Mary Thomasine MasonMary Thomasine Mason (1918-2012)

Mason, the second woman elected to the S.C. Senate, served from 1967 to 1968, representing Clarendon and Sumter counties.  She received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of South Carolina.  She practiced law in Manning in the 1960s, and served as a trial attorney with the Civil Division of the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., 1969-1975,   In 1971, she was appointed as a Federal Administrative Law Judge for the Social Security Administration's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, serving until c.1988.  

Clara McMillanClara McMillan (1894-1976)

The wife of S.C. congressman Thomas S. McMillan was elected to Congress to serve the remainder of her deceased husband’s term, 1939-1940.  Clara Eloise Gooding completed a teacher training course at the Confederate Home College in Charleston in 1915 and taught school in Crocketville in Hampton County for one year before marrying.  McMillan was the second woman from South Carolina to be elected to Congress and the first to actually participate in a Congressional session.  Mrs. Elizabeth Gasque was elected to fill the remaining months of her late husband’s term, September 13, 1938, to January 3, 1939, a time when Congress was not in session.  McMillan sponsored a bill to reimburse the Beaufort County Public Library for books destroyed by Union occupiers during the Civil War and was known for her support of military appropriations and the Selective Service.  She did not run for re-election in 1940, but stayed in Washington and served in the National Youth Administration and, later, the Office of Government Reports and Office of War Information.  In 1946, she was appointed a Congressional Liaison Officer for the Department of State.  She served in that capacity until 1957 or 1958.  McMillan was selected South Carolina’s Mother of the Year in 1960.

Barbara Stock Nielsen, Ed.D.

Dr. Barbara Nielsen served South Carolina from 1990 – 1998 as South Carolina State Superintendent of Education, the second woman to be elected to statewide office in her own right.  Her two terms at Chief Executive Officer for the State Department of Education followed many years directly in the classroom in Kentucky as well as playing lead roles in curriculum, career education and as coordinator of educational improvement. Dr. Nielsen earned degrees from the University of Dayton and University of Louisville, completing her doctorate in Education with specialization in administration and planning.  Since leaving the Department of Education, Barbara has served South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford as advisor on K-12 education, as a senior fellow at the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University and as Interim Superintendent to the SC Public Charter School District.

Liz Johnston Patterson (1939- )

Liz Johnston Patterson, daughter of the late Olin D. Johnston, served South Carolina's Fourth Congressional District from 1987-93 as the second female ever elected to federal office from the State.  Prior to her terms in Congress, Liz was a member of Spartanburg County Council (1974-76) and the South Carolina State Senate representing Spartanburg County (1979-86).  Her service career is long and diverse, beginning with the Peace Corps and moving to VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), the South Carolina Office of Economic Opportunity with Head Start and later in multiple roles with Converse College, including Director of Continuing Education.

Anita Pollitzer (1894-1975)

As a native of Charleston, Pollitzer was an activist for women's suffrage. She attended Columbia University and after graduation she became the national secretary of the National Woman's Party. Pollitzer was the youngest officer and the youngest lobbyist in the National Women's Party as well as a key member of the party to help pass the 19th amendment.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-123456]

Irene Krugman Rudnick (1929- )

Rudnick served in the S.C. House from Aiken Co. from 1973 to 1978, 1981 to 1984, and 1987 to 1994.  Born in Columbia, Rudnick received her A. B. degree in 1949 and law degree in 1952, both from the University of South Carolina.  In addition to her career as an attorney, Rudnick in 2012 celebrated fifty years teaching business and criminal law part time at the University of South Carolina, Aiken. She served as Aiken County Superintendent of Education, 1970-1972, and President of Adath Veshurin Synagogue.

Lena Springs (d. 1942)

Once women achieved the right to vote in 1920 Lena Springs, from Lancaster, SC, became the first women nominated for Vice-President of the United States in 1924. She had been a suffragist since WWI and had worked with the Red Cross, been a chairwoman in the English Department at Queens College in Charlotte, and was the district director of the SC League of Women Voters. Though she had an unsuccessful campaign she continued to be a Democratic National Committeewoman.

Nancy Stevenson (1929-2001)

Ferdinan Backer Nancy Stevenson (1928-2001) served as South Carolina's first woman lieutenant governor from 1979 to 1983, presiding over an all-male Senate.  Upon her election, she noted her intention to provide active leadership and not defer to senior senators like Marion Gressette and Rembert Dennis.  At the same time, the media reported her interest in a promotion to the office of Governor in 1982.  As Lt. Governor, Stevenson spearheaded the Water Use Reporting Act, establishing a system to provide for and prioritize water usage in event of a drought.

The granddaughter of Charleston Congressman George S. Legare, Stevenson was educated at Smith College.  She worked as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune before returning to Charleston, where she became active in historic preservation, the theater, writing fiction, and politics.  The Democrat represented Charleston in the South Carolina House from 1975 to 1978, where she was a lead sponsor of the Fiscal Accountability Act.  After leaving politics, she founded and ran an art gallery in Georgetown, DC.

Of her public service, she once said, “I was watched far more closely than a man would have been.  And watched in such a way that the least wrong move may have been jumped on and blown out of proportion.”

Photo courtesy of Josephine Oakley

Inez Tenenbaum (1951- )

Inez Moore Tenenbaum was sworn in on June 23, 2009 as the ninth Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The term expires in October 2013. Tenenbaum served as South Carolina's State Superintendent of Education from 1998-2007. During her tenure, student achievement in South Carolina improved at the fastest rate in the nation, with scores increasing on every state, national, and international test administered. At the end of Ms. Tenenbaum's tenure, the prestigious journal Education Week ranked South Carolina number one in the country for the quality of its academic standards, assessment, and accountability systems. Tenenbaum received her Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees from the University of Georgia. She received her law degree in 1986 from the University of South Carolina Law School and practiced with the law firm of Sinkler & Boyd, P.A. from 1986–92 in the areas of public interest, health, and environmental law.  

Chief Justice Jean ToalJean Hoefer Toal (1943- )

Jean Hoefer Toal, current Chief Justice on the Supreme Court of South Carolina, began her career of public service with her election in 1975 to the South Carolina House of Representatives.  She represented Richland County in the House for 13 years and was its first woman to chair a standing committee.  She chaired the House Rules Committee and the Constitutional Laws Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.  The Democrat became a leader in the House working on issues including constitutional law, re-structuring of the judicial system and local government, budgets, utilities regulation, workmen's compensation and banking and finance.  The Columbia native was educated at Agnes Scott College and the USC School of Law.  A twenty year career as a practicing attorney included criminal trial work and constitutional litigation.  She became the first woman elected to the Supreme Court in 1988 and has served as Chief Justice since 2000.  In that role she has worked consistently to improve case management particularly through the adoption of modern technology, as she reported in 2011, "Use of modern technology to automate court processes has been the centerpiece of my administration as your Chief Justice." [Address of the Hon. Jean Toal before a Joint Session of the General Assembly, March 2, 2011]

Candy WaitesCandy Waites (1943- )

Candy Yaghjian Waites represented S.C. House District 75 from 1988 until 1994.  Waites received her B.A. from Wheaton College in 1965 and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of South Carolina in 1997.  Waites made national news during the 1964 presidential election when her Wheaton classmates raised money to fly Waites home to vote.  As a result of the publicity, South Carolina amended its absentee ballot law the following year. 

Waites told one reporter, “The important thing here is that I’ve been waiting many years to vote - and suddenly I’m 21 and discover I can’t vote because I’m away at school…When a girl reaches 21, fine clothes, exotic foods, perfume and interesting dates are fine and dandy, but she also wants her right to vote.”

From 1973 to 1976, Waites served as the president of the League of Women Voters of the Columbia area.  In 1976, she ran as a Democrat and became the first woman elected to Richland County Council.  Re-elected in 1980 and 1984, she served on the Council for twelve years. In June 1988, Waites was elected to the SC House of Representatives in a special election. She was re-elected to a full term in November 1989. During her time in the House, she served on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the Nuclear Waste Consultation Committee, and the Local Government Study Committee. She co-chaired the Freshmen Caucus and was secretary of the Democratic Caucus. In 1994, she decided not to pursue re-election due to district reapportionment.

Juanita Willmon-GogginsJuanita Willmon-Goggins (1934-2010)

As a graduate of SC State University, University of South Carolina, and Winthrop University Ms. Willmon-Goggins became the first African-American woman to be elected to the SC General Assembly. Born in Pendleton, SC she would also become the first African-American woman to serve on the United States Civil Rights Commission. To add to her list of firsts, she was also the first African-American woman to serve as a state delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Currently she is the President of the Juanita W. Goggins School of Excellence.

Photo courtesy of the South Carolina African American History Calendar

Kate V. Wofford (1894-1954)

First woman elected to public office in SC. She wrote the book Modern Education in the Small Rural School. Wofford became the first woman county superintendent of education in South Carolina and the first president of the S.C. Teacher Association (later S.C. Education Association). She was also among the first women to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War I, joining the Navy as a yeoman.