Governor, U.S. senator. “Fritz” Hollings was born in Charleston on New Year’s Day 1922 to the salesman Adolph G. Hollings and Wilhelmine Meyer. He received his bachelor of arts degree from the Citadel in 1942 and entered the U.S. Army, serving in World War II in North Africa and France. On his return from the war in 1945, Hollings entered the University of South Carolina School of Law. On March 30, 1946, he married Martha Patricia Salley. They had five children, two of whom died young. Hollings received his bachelor of laws degree in 1947 and joined the Charleston law firm of Meyer, Goldberg, and Hollings.
In 1948 Hollings ran successfully for the South Carolina House. Representing Charleston County from 1949 to 1954, he became a protégé of Speaker Sol Blatt. Hollings authored a major antilynching bill in 1951 and led in passing the three-percent sales tax adopted that year to finance school needs. He served as Speaker pro tempore from 1951 to 1954. Elected lieutenant governor in 1954, Hollings was particularly active in Governor George Bell Timmerman’s administration, working to promote industrial development and economic diversification. The following year Hollings was appointed to the Hoover Commission on Organization of the U.S. Executive Branch.
In 1958 Hollings was elected governor on a multifaceted platform that focused on balancing the state budget, bringing new industry to South Carolina, improving public education, and promoting technical education. Inaugurated in January 1959, Hollings’s administration represented a major transitional period in state government. He maximized the authority of the office of governor and used that power to work with the General Assembly in developing the state’s resources and programs. His legacy included the establishment of the state’s technical education system and educational television network. While helping prepare a skilled labor pool attractive to business, the technical education system also improved employment opportunities generally. The sweeping changes in the state’s educational system included significant increases in teacher salaries to bring them closer to the regional average. The State Development Board was expanded and given a leadership role in attracting new business and diversifying the state’s economy.
As it became clear that federal courts would mandate that South Carolina end segregation in its schools, Hollings, who formerly had supported segregation, worked to ensure that integration would occur without the bloodshed and hostility that characterized this transition in other southern states. In his final address to the General Assembly on January 9, 1963, Hollings urged the state to accept integration peacefully. He called on the legislature to exhibit courage and “make clear South Carolina’s choice, a government of laws rather than a government of men.” Harvey Gantt, a black student, was admitted to Clemson University before the month was out and the University of South Carolina was integrated peacefully in the fall. Don Fowler, a political scientist and former chairman of the national Democratic Party, described Hollings the governor as, “The leader who best exemplified the creativity and leadership that transformed the South to a new era of progress and prosperity. While many have improved and added to the programs that he created, we still work with the basic institutional arrangements he created and we still benefit from them.”
In 1962 Hollings unsuccessfully challenged South Carolina’s aging but popular senior U.S. senator Olin D. Johnston, in the Democratic primary. When Johnston died in 1965, Donald S. Russell stepped down as governor and was appointed to the Senate by his successor, Robert McNair. In November 1966 Hollings defeated Russell in the special election to fill the remainder of Johnston’s unexpired term. Entering the U.S. Senate in January 1967, Hollings became an acknowledged authority on the budget, telecommunications, the environment and oceans, defense, trade, and space. Hollings authored the Coastal Zone Management Act (1972), co-authored the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act (1985), and led in the creation of the WIC Program (supplemental food program for Women, Infants, and Children) and passage of the Telecommunications Act (1996). His U.S. Senate appointments included the committees on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Appropriations, and Budget. A noted fiscal conservative, Hollings nevertheless enjoyed great success in securing federal dollars for South Carolina projects and was a leading advocate of the textile industry.
His book, The Case Against Hunger (1970) was a product of his “Hunger Tours” of 1969, which highlighted the severe problems of the South Carolina poor. Hollings wrote, “I hope by this book to make you believe that hunger exists in this land, that hunger poses dangers to our nation, and that hunger is costing this country far more in dollars than the most elaborate array of feeding programs.” The statement reflected his propensity to take the long view on budget issues and spend and sacrifice now in order to improve the lot of the citizenry and save money in the long run, balancing humanity with fiscal conservatism. An immediate product of the Hunger Tours was the inclusion of South Carolina in a national pilot program distributing food stamps.
In 1983 Hollings mounted a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. His fresh voice and strong agenda won favor with the media, but failed to excite voters. He withdrew from the crowded field in March 1984.
Divorced from his first wife in 1970, Hollings married Rita “Peatsy” Liddy on August 21, 1971. Mrs. Hollings quickly became an active and skillful advocate for her husband’s legislative objectives and political aspirations. During Hollings’s 1984 presidential campaign, a Virginia newspaper said of her, “More than any other candidate’s wife, she is ready and able to speak up on issues.” Reelected to a sixth and final term as U.S. senator in 1998, Hollings continued to state that “performance is better than promise.” This was more than a campaign motto; it was his calling card and the reason for his success in politics and government.
Hancock, John. “Ernest F. Hollings: Democratic Senator from South Carolina.” In Citizens Look at Congress, edited by the Ralph Nader Congress Project. Washington, D.C.: Grossman, 1972.
Hollings, Ernest F. The Case Against Hunger: A Demand for a National Policy. New York: Cowles, 1970.
———. Oral History. Modern Political Collections, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.
———. Papers. Modern Political Collections, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.