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Rembert Coney Dennis Papers

 Collection
Identifier: SCU-SCPC-037
The Rembert C. Dennis Papers, c.1938-1992, consist of 7.5 ft. of personal and public papers arranged in seven series: General, Speeches, Topical Files, Audio-Visual Recordings, Clippings, Vertical File Materials, and Scrapbook Material. Unfortunately, the bulk of the Senator’s papers was destroyed in a 1985 fire that devastated the Dennis home.

General Files, arranged chronologically, include personal and public correspondence and press releases. Of particular interest is Dennis’s 1978 hand written memorandum—“Legislative Priorities and Pending Legislation for the Coming Session.” Material from 1984 includes letters to Dennis on his selection as President Pro Tempore and a copy of his acceptance speech before the Senate. Papers for 1988 document his decision not to seek reelection. Speeches are arranged chronologically and include drafts and related correspondence as well as the finished speeches.

Topical Files include notes and interview questions of Dale Rosengarten used in her extensive oral history with Dennis, and the edited and verbatim transcripts of that interview.

Audiovisual materials include photographs and the cassette recordings of the Rosengarten interview.

Clippings, 1951-1995, are arranged chronologically and include photocopies of articles collected by Colleen Bradley in her research of Dennis.

Vertical File Materials consists of a transcript of an oral history interview with Dennis, conducted by Jack Bass on March 4, 1975. In it, Dennis chiefly reflects on the changes he witnessed during his senatorial career.

Scrapbook Material includes clippings, invitations, programs, and awards assembled by Dennis and his family and staff. Much of this material shows damage from the fire, one volume, 1982-Jan. 1987 is unscathed.

Dates

  • 1938 - 1992

Creator

Access

Library Use Only

Extent

7.5 Linear Feet

Abstract

Rembert Dennis was one of the most influential legislators of his time. His career spanned almost fifty years in the South Carolina House of Representatives (Berkeley County), 1939-1942, and the South Carolina Senate, 1943-1988.

Biographical Note

“He walked with and was one of the giants in the South Carolina Senate, and when he left the Senate, it was truly the end of that era.” Thus, Isadore Lourie characterized the passing of Rembert Coney Dennis (1915-1992). Dennis served in the South Carolina House from 1939 to 1942, when he was elected to represent Berkeley County in the Senate. He served in the Senate from 1943 until 1988, when ill health forced his retirement from public life. He was one of the most influential legislators of his time.

Rembert Dennis was born in 1915 in Pinopolis to Edward James and Ella Mae Coney Dennis. He graduated from Berkeley High School, and while in school worked for three years as a Senate page. He graduated from Furman University in 1936 with a B.A. degree. While at Furman, Dennis was elected President of the Student Council, played football, and ran track. After graduation, he took a job with the U.S. Maritime Commission in Washington and began law school at Georgetown. In 1940, he received his law degree from the University of South Carolina. Upon his election to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1938, Dennis became the third generation of the Dennis family to represent Berkeley County in the General Assembly.

In 1942, Dennis sought and won election to the South Carolina Senate, following his father and grandfather before him. Conscious that his action opened him to criticism as a slacker, Dennis recalled for oral historian Dale Rosengarten—“I had a burning desire to fill the seat that my father had lost by assassination and my mother had lost because it was too early for women to be accepted for higher office.... It was my feeling that I was going to be severely criticized for running for political office when I was of the age that I was expected to be in military service.... I decided I would run and abide by the results and publicly stated that it was their [the public’s] decision and I would be a volunteer for service if I didn’t win....”

Dennis was an able legislator, a coalition builder who promoted fiscal conservatism yet social progressivism. Between 1943 and his retirement in 1988, he ascended to lead the Senate, succeeding Edgar Brown as Chair of the Finance Committee in 1972, and in 1984, following the death of his close friend Marion Gressette, as President Pro Tem of the Senate. In recalling his ambition, Dennis commented that during the early 1950s—“I wanted to be governor, and then United States Senator. I thought I was a good candidate then for anything, but maybe President. But as I served I learned. The more I learned, the more I found out the less I knew.... I thought, when I got to be Chairman of the Finance Committee, with my years of seniority, I was getting along about as good as the governor, but I had a desire to get into the national picture. I gave it up quickly when I got so busy as Senator, and Chairman of the Finance Committee.”

Ill health forced Dennis to retire from public life in 1988. He suffered a heart attack in 1976 and was involved in two serious automobile accidents, in 1984 and 1985. He passed away in 1992 at the age of seventy-six.

Timeline

1915 born August 27 at Pinopolis to Edward and Ella Mae Dennis

1930 father assassinated

1936 graduated from Furman University, A.B.

1936-37 attended Georgetown University Law School

1938 elected to S.C. House

1939-42 served in S.C. House

1940 graduated from U.S.C. School of Law, LL.B

1942 elected to represent Berkeley County in Senate.

1943-88 served in S.C. Senate

1944 married Natalie Brown of McCormick

Member, State Democratic Executive Committee, 1944-1988

c.1953 Bushy Park Authority development getting underway, to attract industry to Berkeley & Charleston Counties

1961 served on Senate Fish, Game, and Forestry Committee, 1961-1975, and chaired the Committee, 1967-1975

1972 succeeded Edgar Brown as chairman of Finance Committee, 1972-1988 Member, S.C. Budget and Control Board, 1972-1988

Ex-officio member, S.C. Wildlife and Marine Resources Commission, 1972-1988

1984 elected President Pro Tempore, Mar. 13, after death of Marion Gressette

1988 retired in poor health

1992 June 20, died at age 76

Provenance

Donated by Mrs. Natalie Dennis.

Copyright

Copyright of the Rembert C. Dennis papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina.

Digitized Materials

Oral History Interview Transcript 1

This 1975 interview emphasizes Dennis' public policy views, the impact of the 1974 elections and Charles "Pug" Ravenel's gubernatorial campaign, and his views of legislative service. He describes his strong support for state assumption of primary and secondary school funding and elaborates on how he would provide that funding. He also discusses why the Senate seniority system traditionally has been misinterpreted and predicts that new rule changes in the system will encourage participation by more of the body's younger members.

Oral History Interview Transcript 2

This interview was held over a series of twenty dates from 1989 to 1990. The 218-page transcript is divided into chapters in which Dennis describes his family history, formative years, personal life, and public career. He speaks about his relationships with S.C. politicians and his views about the state political scene, and how events such as the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and Watergate influenced his beliefs. An enthusiastic hunter and outdoorsman, Dennis discusses his passion for these activities and his interest in wildlife-focused legislation. A large portion of the interview is devoted to exploring his long legislative career; his campaigns, which were often uncontested; the work he completed for Berkeley County; his involvement as Chair of the Finance Committee; his personal interests; recognition and awards; and his reluctant decision to retire in 1988 following a series of health-related problems. Dennis briefly discusses his law career, which lasted nearly as long as his political career, and his opinions about integration and race relations.

Processing Information

Processed by Herbert Hartsook and Wilma Woods, 1995.

Creator

Repository Details

Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository

Contact:
Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
803-777-0577