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William Jennings Bryan Dorn Papers

Identifier: SCU-SCPC-WJBD

The collection consists of 151 linear feet of records, 1912-1995, divided into Congressional Papers, General Assembly Papers, Personal Papers, Clippings, Audiovisual, Speeches, Press Releases, Newsletters, and Vertical File Materials. Congressional Papers make up a majority of the collection with 127 boxes and cover Dorn's twenty-six year tenure in Congress. Personal Papers include extensive, valuable records documenting Dorn's and others' political campaigns, 1938-1984, his leadership in the South Carolina Democratic Party including his terms as Chairman, and his leadership in the American Legion, among other activities upon leaving Congress.

Congressional Papers reflect Dorn’s influential role on the committees of Public Works and Veterans Affairs and a strong emphasis on constituent service. These papers include correspondence, office records, post office files, topical files, and voting record. Correspondence contains letters to and from people throughout government, the state, and the nation on affairs of the day. Typical of the quality of discussion is the following letter of Jan. 22, 1948, from Dorn to H. Klugh Purdy, responding to a query about Dorn possibly bolting the Democratic Party: "...for years the Democratic Party has ignored our section of the country in favor of radicals and people like Henry Wallace. Even now they are trying to steal Henry Wallace’s platform, which is that of the radical elements of the country. I do not believe the Democratic National Party, as it now stands, will seriously push this segregation issue, so I would not want to inaugurate a movement myself in South Carolina at the present time to lead the state out of the Democratic Party because of my position here in Washington. I have to get along with some of these fellows in order to get things done, but I think the people down there should start a movement along this line. I would be delighted to come to Jasper County and make a speech any time soon on the principles of real Southern democracy. In fact, I am very anxious to speak to the real Democrats in your county."

Also included is a copy of an April 2, 1968 report to Mayor Lester Bates of Columbia and the Community Relations Council on "The Cause of Racial Unrest in Columbia by the Negro Students of The University of South Carolina." The Office Files, 1947-1974, contain records of routine office affairs and include Appointment Books and Calendars; Engagement Files; Guest Books; and Telephone Logs. Engagement files chiefly relate to Dorn’s speaking engagements and include programs, correspondence, and schedules prepared for Dorn and his wife with brief descriptions of the engagements.

The Post Office Files, c.1951-1970, concern postal issues within the district and include general correspondence, 1954-1970; almost a half-foot of correspondence regarding a minimum freight rates bill, 1963; and files regarding the appointment of post masters and rural carriers. The latter are arranged alphabetically by community and contain correspondence and other records which sometimes provide intimate descriptions of local political affairs and battles over the filling of key patronage positions with the Postal Service. The Post Office Files differ from the postal files found throughout the Topical Files, which relate to national issues involving the post office. This distinction reflects the order imposed by Congressman Dorn and his office.

Topical Files, 1947-1974, comprise the largest and most important set of records in the collection. The files are arranged by topic alphabetically in two-year periods mirroring each Congressional session. Files contain legislative matter, reference material, and correspondence with colleagues, constituents and other interested members of the public, and persons in state and local government. Topics reflect Dorn’s committee assignments: Agriculture, Public Works and Veterans Affairs; subjects of prime interest to South Carolina and the up country, such as Textiles; and subjects of more general interest, such as the Watergate Hearings. At right, Dorn visits a VA hospital.

Of particular interest are files, 1959-1974, on the development of power plants along the Savannah River and the construction of Hartwell Dam and the dam at Trotters Shoals. Dorn led the opposition to the latter project, which was championed by South Carolina's senior senator Olin D. Johnston and Georgia’s Richard Russell. Dorn believed that the proposed industrial development of the area, and resulting increase in the tax base, outweighed any benefit from building the dam and losing valuable land under water. Both Duke Power Company and the Mead Corporation were considering major developments for the proposed dam site — a steam plant and paper mill, respectively. Related files can be found under the headings Duke Power Company, Industry, Keowee-Toxaway, Mead Corporation, Public Works, and Trotters Shoals. Clippings files also exist documenting the controversy over the proposed dam.

Topical Files also contain material on civil rights, including a pamphlet apparently by Dorn, "Another Step to Socialism," attacking Truman’s proposed Fair Employment Practices Act. At the end of the Topical Files are Miscellaneous Bound Reports and Committee Prints, including House Judiciary Committee Impeachment Inquiry Hearings and Senate Select Committee Hearings on Presidential Campaign Activities, 1974; and Veterans Affairs, 1951-1956.

Dorn’s Voting Record, 1947-1974, provides his votes on legislation before Congress. In addition to the record supplied each member by the Clerk, these files also includes vote analyses supplied by special interest organizations.

The General Assembly Papers consist of only seven folders of documents from his term in the S.C. House, 1939 to 1940, and partial term in the S.C. Senate, 1941 to 1942. One folder documents the campaign to allow Dorn to take his Senate seat even though he would not turn 25 (the minimum age required) until April 14, 1941.

Personal Papers document Dorn’s life outside of Congress and are split into general papers, campaign files, and topical files. The general papers consist primarily of correspondence about family matters, the running of the Dorn farm, and his life after leaving public office. Topical files include a file on Dorn’s namesake, William Jennings Bryan, including Bryan autograph items. Most of the topical files are from his post-Congress life and document his association with the American Legion, Former Members of Congress, Furman University, Lander College, Leadership South Carolina, Piedmont Technical Education Center, South Carolina Farm Bureau, South Carolina Forestry Association, and the University of South Carolina. Also present are genealogical data and material relating to the Russell Dam and veterans’ affairs.

Campaign Files, 1938-1994, are particularly rich and contain valuable information on Dorn’s races and other local, statewide, and national campaigns. A half a box of material covers Dorn’s 1948 Senate campaign and document his attacks upon Judge Waties Waring and his belief that Maybank’s financial assets were a prime factor in his loss. The 1954 material includes voluminous mailings from the Democratic National Committee. Dorn considered initiating a write-in campaign challenging Brown for the U.S. Senate. A folder of correspondence documents his decision to forego such a campaign because it would further confuse that race and serve to weaken the Democratic Party in South Carolina.

Dorn’s great popularity is attested to by the fact that he was unopposed for reelection to Congress in 1956, 1958, 1960 and 1962. Campaign records for 1956 chiefly document the presidential campaign of Adlai Stevenson, for whom Dorn stumped in Florida. Files for 1960 include correspondence regarding Dorn’s interest in nominating South Carolina’s young and popular governor, Ernest F. Hollings, for the presidency. Dorn felt it essential that a candidate be nominated who would represent the South’s ideals. Hollings refused Dorn’s entreaties. Also included is a transcript of the famous television debate between Kennedy and Nixon, broadcast September 9, 1960. The 1962 files include correspondence resulting from press speculation that Dorn might challenge Olin Johnston for the United States Senate, possibly as a Republican.

Extensive files document Dorn’s gubernatorial campaigns of 1974 and 1978. Among the material documenting the 1974 campaign is regular correspondence with Sol Blatt, H.P. Stephenson, and Julius Wolfe. Dorn also polled his supporters before announcing for governor and the responses to his query signal the ambiguity those people felt, wishing to endorse Dorn’s bid yet reluctant to lose his voice in the House and the seniority he had achieved. Throughout the Campaign Files are records reflecting Dorn’s involvement with the Democratic Party. An additional 2.5 feet of records reflect Dorn’s continued work with the Democratic Party in his post-congressional years when he was Chair of the state party and active in national party affairs through the Democratic National Committee and presidential primaries and campaigns.

Speeches, Press Releases, and Newsletters, 1948-1981, consist of 2.5 ft. of releases and newsletters from Dorn’s office and outlines, drafts, and texts of his speeches. This valuable series allows the reconstruction of Dorn’s activities in Congress and his views of important subjects of the day. His speeches were often issued as releases or excerpted in them. This material is arranged chronologically. Please see also our complete item-level listing of these materials.

Audiovisual material includes photographs, c.1948-1983; audio-recordings, c.1956-1985; and video cassettes, 1984-1995. Included are photos of Dorn’s military service, veterans’ affairs activities, family and home, and campaigns and involvement with the Democratic Party. Audio recordings in reel and cassette form consist of interviews with Dorn during the campaign and relating to his service in Congress and speeches to diverse audiences like student groups and campaign rally attendees. Videos are from Dorn’s post-Congress years and include events honoring Dorn and interviews with Dorn like "Bryan Dorn: Representing the People," an ETV Production of an in-depth interview with Dorn.

Vertical File Materials, 1967-2006, contain information gathered by SCPC relating to Dorn and may duplicate information already present in the collection.


  • 1912 - 2006



Library use only


151 Linear Feet


W.J. Bryan Dorn began his career in public service by representing Greenwood County in the S.C. House of Representatives, 1939-1940, and the S.C. Senate, 1941-1942. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 and served for eighteen months in the European theater. Returning to his political career in 1947, he was elected to represent the 3rd District in the U.S. Congress and served for thirteen terms through 1974. Dorn was active in the leadership of the South Carolina Democratic Party and served as its chairman, 1980-1984.

Biographical Note

William Jennings Bryan Dorn represented South Carolina's Third District in the United States Congress for thirteen terms between 1947 and 1974. He was born near Greenwood, S.C. in 1916 to T.E. and Pearl Griffith Dorn, both educators. One of ten children, he was educated in the Greenwood public schools. In 1938, at twenty-two, Dorn was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Two years later he won election to the South Carolina Senate. Dorn became the youngest senator in South Carolina history when the Legislature passed a special act allowing him to be seated, as he would not meet the minimum requirement of twenty-five years until four months into the term.

Dorn resigned from the Senate in 1942 to enlist in the Army Air Corps, served for eighteen months in Europe, and was discharged from military service in October, 1945. His six brothers also saw service during the war. Returning in 1946 to his political career, Dorn defeated incumbent Congressman Butler Hare and entered the U.S. House in 1947 as part of a freshman class that included Carl Albert, John F. Kennedy, and Richard M. Nixon. In 1948, he married Mildred Johnson, Washington Associate Editor of US News and World Report. Millie [d.1990] would become his closest advisor. She acted both as Dorn’s office and campaign manager.

Dorn challenged incumbent Burnet Maybank for the U.S. Senate in 1948, foregoing a seemingly certain return to the House. Finishing second in a five-man primary, he returned to his farm where he raised beef cattle. Dorn took great pride in farming, even though politics was to be his true life interest. In 1950 Dorn regained his seat in the U.S. House, representing South Carolina’s Third District for twelve consecutive terms. His committee service included terms on the House Steering Committee, Public Works, its sub-committees on Appalachia and Roads, and Veterans’ Affairs. A noted expert in the latter area, Dorn became Chair of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs during his final term. Dorn helped organize the informal House Textile Committee around 1961 and became its secretary. An eloquent advocate of South Carolina’s interests, Dorn was particularly effective in the areas of agriculture, industrialization, and highway construction. His office earned a reputation for superb constituent service.

Dorn was known as an ambitious man and was often mentioned as a possible candidate for the U.S. Senate or Governor from the 1950s through 1970s. 1954 witnessed the unexpected death of incumbent nominee Burnet Maybank and a startling race to fill his senate seat. To many in the party, Dorn seemed a likely nominee following his good showing in 1948. However, Edgar Brown became the nominee and lost the election to write-in candidate Strom Thurmond.

Dorn’s great popularity is attested to by the fact that he was unopposed for reelection to Congress in 1956, 1958, 1960 and 1962. There was speculation during 1966 and 1972 that Dorn would oppose Strom Thurmond for the Senate. However, he remained satisfied with House service until, in November 1973, he became the first Democrat to announce for Governor. The 1974 campaign is one of South Carolina’s most intriguing gubernatorial contests. Charles P. "Pug" Ravenel, a South Carolina native who had made his fortune as a New York investment banker, emerged as an exciting newcomer to South Carolina politics during the Democratic primary. The contest featured a large field which included Maurice Bessinger, Nick Zeigler, Milton Dukes and John Bolt Culbertson, but narrowed to three strong candidates — Dorn, Ravenel and Lt. Gov. Earle Morris. Dorn brought to the race over twenty years of service in the House and party and a reputation as a skilled campaigner but lost in a runoff with Ravenel.

The Republican primary was less wild but the result was no less surprising. Low-country dentist James B. Edwards emerged the victor over Vietnam War hero General William Westmoreland. Ravenel appeared headed to a ready victory over Edwards. However, a suit was brought charging that Ravenel had not met the legal residency requirements to seek office and, late in the campaign, he was removed from the ticket. Just weeks before the general election in November, the state Democratic Convention reconvened and selected Dorn as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

Ravenel withheld his support from the Dorn candidacy and was highly criticized for requesting his supporters to write in Dorn’s name on the ballot to protest the removal of his own. Even with all the confusion and bitterness, the race was close. The final tally showed Edwards with 263,000 votes to Dorn's 248,000, or 51.47% to 48.53%. Ravenel’s candidacy had been expected to energize a new generation of political activists. Instead, it proved a divisive issue for the party and resulted in the election of South Carolina’s first Republican governor since reconstruction. Following this loss, Dorn returned to his farm. He sought the Democratic nomination again in 1978 but lost and campaigned energetically for the eventual winner, Dick Riley.

Dorn was elected chair of the state Democratic Party in 1980 and provided active and personal leadership between 1980 and 1984. He also retained his interest in veterans’ affairs, and served as State Commander of the American Legion from 1979 to 1980. Other community service included terms on various boards and as a guest lecturer at Lander College. Dorn diedAug. 13, 2005, at his home, Barratt House, in Greenwood.


Donated by the Honorable William Jennings Bryan Dorn

Digitized Materials

William Jennings Bryan Dorn: In His Own Words

Audio clips from the Papers of William Jennings Bryan Dorn at South Carolina Political Collections Named after William Jennings Bryan, Dorn was destined for a life in politics. He began his career at the age of 22 as the youngest member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and served in the United States Congress for 26 years. In his autobiography, Dorn: Of The People, he wrote, "Public speaking was a way life." This collection of audio clips highlights Dorn's career of service to South Carolina and the nation. Through his pleasing Southern drawl, Dorn draws in his audiences with warmth and passion. The collection is composed of various speeches from the campaign trail and addresses to the American Legion. Additional clips are excerpts from his 1980 and 1981 oral history interviews. Topics include World War II, civil rights, and national defense.

Interview with Steve Griffith and Watson Dorn

Chiefly relates to the 1950 campaign by William Jennings Bryan Dorn to be returned to Congress. Watson Dorn, Bryan Dorn’s youngest brother, and cousin Steve Griffith, helped Dorn defeat incumbent James B. Hare and win election to regain the seat he had first won in 1946. In 1948, rather than seek reelection to the House, Dorn had unsuccessfully challenged Burnet Maybank for the U.S. Senate.


Copyright of the William Jennings Bryan Dorn papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina

Processing Information

Processed by Herbert J. Hartsook, 1991-1993; additions by Lori Schwartz, 2011.

Repository Details

Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA

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