Politics & Government

SC event encourages women to run for office

For the first time, the SC Senate has four women members – Katrina Shealy, Margie Bright Matthews, Mia McLeod and Sandy Senn.
For the first time, the SC Senate has four women members – Katrina Shealy, Margie Bright Matthews, Mia McLeod and Sandy Senn. tdominick@thestate.com

What would it take to get more women involved in S.C. politics?

That’s the idea behind S.C. Women Run, a Saturday event aimed at women who might want to get involved in political advocacy and, maybe, run for public office themselves.

Sponsored by the Charleston-based Center for Women, the event will bring together elected officials, former candidates and political operatives – Republicans and Democrats – to give their advice for launching a successful campaign.

“Women have a different perspective on issues, and we need that perspective when making the important decisions that face our state,” said state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, until recently the only woman in the state Senate.

Shealy will speak at the event along with some fellow legislators – Rep. Katie Arrington, R-Dorchester, former Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Charleston, and former Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland.

Other speakers will include Linda Ketner, the 2008 Democratic nominee in the 1st District congressional race, and Mary Tinkler, the Charleston County treasurer who succeeded former Speaker Bobby Harrell in the S.C. House in 2014.

State GOP executive director Hope Walker and Democratic chair candidate Susan Smith will work with potential candidates on “navigating South Carolina’s political parties.”

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the College of Charleston’s North Campus, 3800 Paramount Drive, North Charleston. Participants can register at c4women.org/all-events/

Organizers hope to hold more events as the 2018 election season unfolds.

While South Carolina has produced one of the most high-profile female political figures in the country – Nikki Haley, the state’s first female governor, who is now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations – the Palmetto State lags much of the rest of the nation in terms of women’s representation at the highest levels of government.

South Carolina ranks 22nd in the country for gender parity in elected offices, according to Representation 2020, a Maryland-based group that encourages women to seek public office. Women held just 14.7 percent of the 170 seats in the S.C. Legislature last year.

If you go

S.C. Women Run

WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: College of Charleston’s North Campus, 3800 Paramount Drive, North Charleston

REGISTER: c4women.org/all-events/

First S.C. women in office


Nikki R. Haley, born 1972, served 2011-17. Haley was elected after serving in the S.C. House representing Lexington County. Born in Bamberg to Indian immigrants, Haley graduated with an accounting degree from Clemson University. As governor, she led the state through the Charleston church shooting, historic 2015 October flooding and Hurricane Matthew. Earlier this year, she became U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, selected by President Donald Trump.

Statewide office

Ferdinan “Nancy” Stevenson, 1928-2001. Stevenson was elected lieutenant governor in 1978, the first woman to hold statewide office. Stevenson ran for a Charleston seat in the S.C. House in 1974, frustrated by the General Assembly’s failure to support historic preservation efforts. She served two terms in the House.

S.C. Supreme Court

Jean Hoefer Toal, born 1943. In 1988, Toal, a former state representative, became the first woman elected an associate justice of the S.C. Supreme Court. She became chief justice in 2000, and was re-elected in 2004 and 2014. Toal left the court in 2015, having reached the mandatory retirement age.

U.S. House of Representatives

Elizabeth Hawley Gasque, 1886-1989. Gasque was in the U.S. House from 1938-39, winning a special election to finish her husband’s unexpired term after his death. She never received any committee assignments nor was she sworn into office.

Elizabeth Johnston Patterson, born 1939. Patterson, a Democrat, was the first woman to win a U.S. House seat in her own right, not filling a husband’s unexpired term. The daughter of former U.S. Sen. and S.C. Gov. Olin D. Johnston, Patterson graduated from Spartanburg High School and received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College, then studied political science at the University of South Carolina. She won a seat on Spartanburg County Council in 1975. In 1979, she won a state Senate seat. In 1986, Patterson won the U.S. House seat that had been held by U.S. Rep. Carroll Campbell, who left Congress to run for governor.

S.C. Senate

Mary Gordon Ellis, 1890-1934. Ellis served in the Senate from 1929-32. Ellis had been Jasper County superintendent of education from 1924-28, providing new books to students at segregated black schools instead of hand-me-down books from white schools. In 1928, state Rep. H. K. Purdy, D-Jasper, had Ellis fired. When Purdy filed to run for the Senate, Ellis did as well, beating him. Her portrait now hangs in the Senate.

S.C. House of Representatives

Harriet Catherine Frazier Johnson, 1889-1972. Johnson was the first woman elected to the S.C. House, serving 1945-46 after winning a special election to fill a vacated York County seat. She campaigned for less than a week, defeating three male opponents by five votes. She focused mostly on education for African-American children.

Martha Thomas Fitzgerald, 1894-1981. Fitzgerald, a state representative from 1950-62, was the first woman to serve a full term in the House. She represented Richland County.

SOURCES: Walter Edgar’s S.C. Encyclopedia, history.house.gov, judicial.state.sc.us, governor.sc.gov