The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
“So we had a TV spot that started off with everybody in our family—and at that point we had three children—sitting around the breakfast table fully dressed, and I was going around the table pouring orange juice for us. Well, we never were able to do that. You know, carpool’s coming, take this, whatever, and grab it, and go get in the car. And then the next scene was me. It was Dwight and me going out the front door, both of us with our briefcases, kissing and going off in different directions. Well, again, we never used our front door. But they did that. Then the next scene, I was in Columbia in the state house, and I was speaking on the senate floor. Then at one point I was at my desk, and several of the senators were leaning over me as we looked at a piece of legislation. It was a very—and sort of dark, communing like we were working hard on something. Then the final shot was, I was back home, sitting on the floor playing Scrabble with my children. And so that commercial supposedly showed that I could be wife, mom, and legislator.”
—The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, April 3, 2017

Abstract & Transcript

U.S. Representative from South Carolina (January 3, 1987-January 3, 1993)

Elizabeth J. Patterson spent much of her childhood and formative years growing up in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol while her father, Olin DeWitt Talmadge Johnston of South Carolina, served in the U.S. Senate from 1945 to 1965. In her interview, Patterson describes Washington, D.C., during the mid-20th century—the legislative side as well as family life. She also discusses the valuable experience of working on her father’s congressional campaigns and the lessons she learned which helped further her own political career.

Before coming to Congress, Patterson built an impressive political résumé, serving on the Spartanburg County council and in the South Carolina state senate. In her oral history she compares her local and state service with her time in Congress and reveals how this experience served as preparation for her three terms in the U.S. House. Patterson also explains the role of gender and fundraising in her campaigns. As the first South Carolina woman elected to the House in her own right, Patterson speaks about the history of widows representing her state as well as the obstacles faced by women pursuing a political career. In her interview she also describes her service on the Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, as well as her leadership of the Congressional Textile Caucus.

Biography

PATTERSON, Elizabeth J., (daughter of Olin D. Johnston), a Representative from South Carolina; born Elizabeth Johnston in Columbia, S.C., November 18, 1939; attended public schools in Kensington, Md., and Spartanburg, S.C.; B.A., Columbia College, Columbia, S.C., 1961; graduate study, University of South Carolina, 1961-1962; recruiting officer for the Peace Corps, 1962-1964; recruiting officer for VISTA, 1965-1967; director of a Head Start program, 1967-1968; staff assistant for U.S. Representative James R. Mann, 1969-1970; served on the Spartanburg County Council, 1975-1976; South Carolina senate, 1979-1986; elected as a Democrat to the One Hundredth and to the two succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1987-January 3, 1993); unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1992 to the One Hundred Third Congress; died on November 10, 2018.

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Video

Getting Involved

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson describes her early campaign experience before serving in Congress.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"So, I Just Decided to Run"

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson explains how she decided to run for Congress in 1986.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Campaign Material

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson discusses the materials she and her staff handed out on the campaign trail.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Intricate Campaign Advertisement

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson describes the difficult task her campaign faced in demonstrating that she "could be a woman, a mother, and a good, tough politician."

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Town Meetings and the Campaign Trail

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson speaks about the issues she faced and the connections she made on the campaign trail and during town hall meetings.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Analyzing the Polls

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson reveals the importance of polls in understanding the role of gender in her first House campaign.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"They Were Sort of Fearful of a Woman"

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson describes the resistance she faced as a woman candidate at the local and state level in South Carolina.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Not the First Woman

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson reflects on the history of women from South Carolina who served in Congress.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The "Fellows" of the House

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson remembers a conversation about gender and the institution with Speaker Jim Wright.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"Things will be Tough Sometimes, and Good Sometimes"

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson remembers the helpful advice she received in Congress.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Building Relationships on Capitol Hill

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson remembers the bonds formed between her family and Senate colleagues.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The Women of Congress

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson reflects on the dynamics of the group of women who served during her congressional tenure.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Women and South Carolina Politics

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson talks about the strides women have made in South Carolina.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Convincing Women to Run for Congress

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson speculates on why more South Carolina women haven't run for Congress and recalls her efforts to encourage women to be more active.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina
Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Images & Artifacts

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson
<i>The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_patterson_portrait.xml
Congresswoman Patterson photographed during her final term in Congress (1991-1993).
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
Visiting Constituent
<i>Visiting Constituent</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_patterson_office.xml
Congresswoman Patterson welcomed a visitor to her office in 1990.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Photo Op on the Capitol Steps
<i>Photo Op on the Capitol Steps</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_patterson_constituent.xml
Representative Patterson posed with a constituent on the East Front of the Capitol in 1992.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Elizabeth J. Patterson Lapel Pin
<i>Elizabeth J. Patterson Lapel Pin</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_patterson_button.xml
Representative Patterson chose this design for her campaign buttons. In her oral history, she describes many of her campaign techniques, including intricate television advertisements.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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