Congressman. Dorn was born in Greenwood on April 14, 1916, one of ten children born to Thomas Elbert Dorn and Pearl Griffith. His father, an educator and school superintendent, named his son after the famous orator William Jennings Bryan in hopes he would have a political career. Dorn attended public schools in Greenwood and graduated from Greenwood High School. In 1938 he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Two years later he was elected to the South Carolina Senate, but he resigned shortly thereafter to join the armed forces during World War II. From 1942 to 1945 he served in the U.S. Army Air Force.
Following World War II, Dorn returned to politics. In 1946 he won his first election to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Third District. When he entered Congress at the age of thirty, he was one of the four youngest members. Two years later, however, he made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Burnet Maybank. On December 8, 1948, Dorn married Mildred Johnson, associate editor of U.S. News and World Report. The marriage produced five children. In 1950 Dorn was reelected to the congressional seat he had given up to run for the U.S. Senate. He served continuously in that position until 1974, when he ran for governor of South Carolina.
As a congressman, Dorn established a record as a strong supporter of military and defense spending. He was also a champion of veterans and supported numerous legislative acts for their assistance. From 1973 to 1974 he was chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He also served on the Public Works Committee and used his position to support the building of numerous dams in South Carolina. As a representative from the textile section of the state, he was a vocal supporter of restrictions on foreign imports of textiles. Once considered a conservative segregationist, Dorn evolved into a progressive populist. He supported most of Lyndon Johnson’s antipoverty program, and in 1965 he was the only Deep South congressman to oppose antibusing legislation. In 1971 he was the only South Carolina House member to vote for funds to establish a Washington memorial for the black educator Mary McLeod Bethune, a South Carolina native.
Dorn unsuccessfully ran for governor twice, in 1974 and in 1978. In 1974 he lost the Democratic primary to newcomer Charles “Pug” Ravenel, but he became the Democratic candidate when Ravenel was declared ineligible by the S.C. Supreme Court. With the Democratic Party bitterly divided, Dorn was defeated by Republican James Edwards in the general election. In 1978 Dorn finished third in the Democratic primary for governor. From 1980 to 1984 he was chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
Following his retirement from politics he taught at Lander College and the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg (which became USC-Upstate). He also served as state commander of the American Legion from 1979 to 1980. In 1984 he was named one of the forty most influential persons in South Carolina, and in 1987 his portrait was hung in the State House.
Barron, Robert G. “Challenge and Change: William Jennings Bryan Dorn and the Cold War, 1947–1965.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1994.
Dorn, William Jennings Bryan. Papers. Modern Political Collections, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
Dorn, William Jennings Bryan, and Scott Derks. Dorn: Of the People. Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark Layman, 1988.