Legislator, state 4–H Club leader. Johnson was born in Pelzer on December 3, 1889, the daughter of Steven Frazier and Susan Rowland. She grew up in Walhalla and after completing high school and a summer session, she taught school. She saved money for college until she could afford to attend in 1913, graduating from Winthrop College in 1917 with a bachelor of arts degree. She was hired by Spartanburg County as a home extension agent, beginning a twenty-five year career with the extension service. On December 11, 1917, she married Richard Hughes Johnson. He died in November 1918 while serving in the army in France during World War I. From 1922 to 1944, Johnson served as head of the state 4–H girls’ clubs, headquartered at Winthrop College. She continued her education at Teachers College, Columbia University, earning a bachelor of science degree in 1927 and a master’s degree in 1930. She resigned her position in October 1944 to devote her time to civic and church work.
In February 1945 Johnson became the first woman elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, winning a special election to fill the seat vacated by York County representative Henry Mills, who had resigned to become sergeant-at-arms for the State House. On January 27, 1945, the South Carolina White House Conference met in Columbia and urged women to run for office. Johnson later said that she ran for the General Assembly at the urging of friends and members of the groups that sponsored this meeting, including the American Association of University Women and the Federation of Business and Professional Women in South Carolina. She had a woman campaign manager. After a campaign of less than a week, Johnson defeated her three male opponents by only five votes. Because the S.C. House rules required that members be addressed as “Mr.,” the Speaker referred to the Rules Committee a request to change the rules and allow her to be addressed as “Mrs.”
During her brief tenure, she served on five committees and focused much of her energy on education programs, especially programs for African American children. She authored a bill to provide schoolbooks for children in York County with a $1 annual rental fee. The bill was so popular that the General Assembly amended it to apply to all high schools in South Carolina. She also authored a bill to establish an industrial school for African American girls. Johnson saw her role as representing her entire constituency rather than as an advocate for women. In this respect she was typical of women legislators of her day. In 1946 she sponsored a resolution to Congress opposing the Equal Rights Amendment.
Johnson served only one term in the legislature. Subsequently she was a Methodist missionary for three years, teaching home economics to women in India. She later served as director of recreation and religious activities for the South Carolina Opportunity School in West Columbia. In 1951 the Progressive Farmer magazine named her Woman of the Year for her service in rural progress in South Carolina. Johnson retired to Spartanburg and died there in a nursing home on January 27, 1972. She was buried in Greenlawn Memorial Gardens.
Ellis, M. Carolyn, and Joanne V. Hawks. “Ladies in the Gentlemen’s Club: South Carolina Women Legislators, 1928–1984.” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association (1986): 17–32.