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Elizabeth Patterson Papers

Identifier: SCU-SCPC-EJP

Nineteen feet of material, chiefly 1979 to 1992, provides valuable information about Patterson’s public service in South Carolina and Washington, D.C. Public papers primarily document Patterson’s service in the General Assembly and Congress. Personal papers, which make up the bulk of the collection, include material on her campaigns for office, family, civic involvement, and education.

Among the Public papers, Topical files demonstrate the range of issues Patterson was involved in while serving in the state Senate and in Congress. While state senator, Patterson served as chair of a Study Committee on Hunger and Nutrition. The committee looked at the situation and resources available in South Carolina and at efforts in other states to address similar problems.

As a Member of Congress, Patterson’s legislative interests, as detailed in the collection, included banking issues, budget reform, and veterans’ affairs. In addition, she was active in issues directly affecting her district, including funding for the proposed Southern Connector highway in Greenville County and the Greenville-Spartanburg airport, the establishment of BMW’s North American manufacturing headquarters in Greer, and trade policy affecting the textiles industry. In August 1992, Patterson was unanimously elected Chair of the Textile Caucus. She noted three priorities: educating members of Congress on textiles issues, building coalitions in Congress, the Executive Department, and within the textile industry to “move forward when needed,” and searching for “new means of accomplishing our goals.” However, her defeat in the 1992 election cut short her efforts as leader of the Caucus.

Personal papers consist primarily of campaign records, 1975 to 1994, with the bulk of the material dating from Patterson’s races for Congress in 1986, 1988, 1990, and 1992. The campaign files demonstrate the publicity efforts, fundraising, and strategy used in her campaigns. Materials include event planning files, issue files, Democratic Party campaign and Get Out the Vote strategies, and polls and other research. Included in the 1992 campaign materials are files on Bill Clinton’s campaign, for which Patterson served on the One Woman/One Vote National Women’s Advisory Committee. Also among the Personal Papers are records of the Transportation 2000 Committee, to which Patterson was appointed shortly after leaving Congress. The committee was to advise the state Department of Highways and Public Transportation and charged with studying South Carolina’s transportation needs for the next decade, particularly focusing on funding. Vertical File Materials contain information gathered by SCPC relating to Patterson and may duplicate information already present in the collection.

Audiovisual materials include a large number of photographs, including many of Patterson’s childhood and her family, as well as audio and visual recordings, which consist primarily of campaign commercials and debate appearances (see item-level listing in the collection inventory). Clippings document Patterson’s family, her races for office, and her public service.


  • circa 1930-2016



19 Linear Feet

Biographical / Historical

My family taught me that our world is only as good as you make it, and one of the ways to make it better is to participate in the political process. —Liz Patterson, announcing for Congress in 1986 Sometimes a colleague is startled to walk in, find that the senator is temporarily absent but that Lizzie is in his place, her feet up on the desk. —Life, 1949

“Lizzie” — Gladys Elizabeth Johnston — was the daughter of South Carolina’s Olin D.Johnston, who served in the United States Senate from 1945 until his death in 1965. Raised in a family committed to public service, she eventually grew up to earn her own desk on Capitol Hill. She was the first woman from South Carolina to be elected to a full term in Congress, and went on to serve for three, from 1987 to 1993. Patterson was born November 18, 1939, in Columbia, South Carolina. She shared a birthday with both her father and her older sister, Sallie. Her father had recently completed a term as governor of South Carolina; he would be elected again in 1942, before stepping down in 1945 to ascend to the Senate. As a result, Patterson spent much of her childhood in and around Washington, D.C., and as a nine-year-old, attracted the attention of a writer for Life for her roller-skating around the Capitol building. The close-knit Johnston family, which also included her mother Gladys and her brother Olin Jr., spent many Saturdays in the city, taking in a movie and going out to eat after the Senator finished office work for the day.

Patterson spent most of her school years in Maryland before returning to South Carolina to finish her last two years at Spartanburg High School. She attended Columbia College, completing a degree in English with a minor in Spanish in 1961. Afterwards she spent a year in graduate study in the University of South Carolina’s political science department before returning to Washington to take a job with the newly organized Peace Corps. Her work there was largely related to recruiting new volunteers, particularly on college campuses. She took time off in 1962 to help manage what turned out to be her father’s last campaign for the Senate, and also worked in the 1964 campaign of President Lyndon Johnson, taking a turn aboard the “Lady Bird Special” campaign train. Starting in 1966, she worked in Columbia as part of the state Office of Economic Opportunity, helping oversee VISTA and Head Start.

In 1967, she married Dwight Patterson and settled in her hometown of Spartanburg. She and Dwight went on to have three children, Pat, Olin, and Catherine. She soon reentered the world of politics, working as a staff assistant for Congressman James Mann in 1969 and 1970. Later, she was elected to Spartanburg County Council and served from 1975 to 1976. In 1978, Patterson was named to the Board of Trustees of Wofford College. She was then elected to the South Carolina Senate, serving from 1979 to 1986. In her 1979 campaign, she highlighted her commitment to fiscal responsibility and expertise in budgetary issues: “Right now, the General Assembly mandates too many programs without evaluating their effect on local communities. Too often, local taxpayers cannot bear the financial burden of carrying out these programs.” Throughout her political career, Patterson was known for her careful study of the issues and for a genuine concern for her constituents, which she saw as a legacy from her father.

With a vacancy in the Fourth District’s Congressional seat due to Carroll Campbell’s running for governor in 1986, Patterson tossed her hat in the ring. In the general election, she faced off against Republican Greenville Mayor Bill Workman in a rematch of sorts: their respective fathers had been opponents in the 1962 race for the U.S. Senate. The race was close, but Patterson was elected. Despite her name recognition, her home base in populous Spartanburg, and her political experience, her election was viewed as something of a surprise, as she captured a seat that had been Greenville’s domain for nearly 70 years and had become safely Republican. She was part of the freshman class of the 100th Congress, which would later become notable for having two members who went on to serve as Speaker of the House: Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

As Patterson began her first term in Congress, she lobbied for and was given a seat on the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, reflecting her interest in shaping policies governing financial institutions. Among the legislative accomplishments she frequently cited was helping to establish child care facilities in Veterans’ Administration medical centers. She received the Taxpayers’ Hero Award from Citizens Against Government Waste in 1990 and 1992, one of only a handful of House Democrats to do so, and staked out a position as a fiscal conservative who supported a balanced budget amendment. As Lee Bandy, political reporter for The State, wrote in 1990, “Republicans…try to cast Rep. Patterson as a liberal, although she’s the most conservative Democrat in the House, according to a vote study conducted by Congressional Quarterly, a non-partisan authority on Congress.” [Lee Bandy, “Haskins faces uphill struggle,” The State, 6 May 1990] Her effort at instituting a line-item veto for the President of the United States, intended as a curb on budgetary excess, drew attention and bipartisan support, although it was ultimately unsuccessful.

In 1988 Patterson narrowly held off challenger Knox White, 52-48%, in what was cited as “the South’s most expensive Congressional race.” [ Dan Hoover, “Thomas move surprised White,” Greenville News, 3 Sept. 1989] However, her showing was 20 percentage points better than presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who headed the Democratic ticket.

Despite the perception that Patterson’s seat was ripe for the taking by almost any Republican, the party had difficulty attracting a viable candidate for the 1990 election. Early in April 1990, her only declared opponent, State Senator David Thomas, dropped out of the race. He had raised only $25,000 toward an anticipated budget of $500,000; it was speculated that another factor in his decision was the illness of RNC chairman Lee Atwater, who had previously taken a special interest in “taking back” Patterson’s seat as a “national priority.” Not much time remained before the April 30 filing deadline, and for weeks observers commented on the tepid interest among potential Republican candidates, causing a measure of embarrassment among party leaders in a district “with a Republican infrastructure laden with talent and money.” [Dan Hoover, “GOP thinking the unthinkable,” Greenville News, 15 Apr. 1990] Finally, only a few days before the filing deadline, then-South Carolina House Minority Leader Terry Haskins decided to enter the race, although he kept his name on the ballot for his state House seat as well, a move that generated some controversy. The 1990 race ended up being Patterson’s most decisive victory, as she won Greenville County for the first time and beat Haskins 61 to 39%. Although the Fourth District seat was usually characterized as belonging to Greenville and Spartanburg, the influence of rural, historically Democratic Union County was felt throughout Patterson’s races. She announced for re-election in 1990 in her “adopted hometown,” and her strong showings there helped push her over the top in her successful races. [Redistricting has since moved Union County into the Fifth Congressional District.]

In 1992, however, the race for the Fourth District seat drew three candidates in the Republican primary, with the nomination eventually going to Greenville attorney and term-limits advocate Robert “Bob” Inglis. Although a relative unknown upon his entry to the race, he was well funded and had strong support from the Christian Coalition, and profited from an increasingly conservative Fourth District. In addition, a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment both locally and nationally helped Inglis. Although a late-October poll by the Greenville News showed her with a comfortable lead, Patterson narrowly lost the race, 48 to 50%.

Patterson’s name was mentioned for potential positions in the newly elected administration of Bill Clinton, but she wanted to return to Spartanburg. In 1994, bolstered in part by the urging of supporters and friends that she return to public life, Patterson entered the race for Lieutenant Governor, stating, “I feel this is a way I can serve the people. I’ve had four people call me this week asking me to help them. And I feel this would be a place where I could help.” [Lee Bandy, “Patterson preparing to enter race for lieutenant governor,” The State, 19 Aug. 1993] In a hotly contested four-person Democratic primary, Patterson won easily, but was defeated in the general election among a tide of Republican victories.

Following her political career, Patterson worked as director of Continuing Education at Converse College, as well as teaching classes at Spartanburg Methodist College, where her father began his education while working in the mills. She also completed a master’s degree in Liberal Arts and Political Science at Converse and served as chair of the Spartanburg County Democratic Party. In 2010, she became the first female president of the Rotary Club of Spartanburg. In 2018, she passed away after an extended illness.

Physical Location

South Carolina Political Collections, Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, Columbia, SC

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Honorable Elizabeth Patterson

Related Materials


Copyright of the Elizabeth Patterson papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina.

Processing Information

1995-1996, by Terry Morris and H.J. Hartsook; additions and revisions, 2013-2014, by Sara Norman and Dorothy Walker; additions, 2016, by Mae Bradford

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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