Lieutenant governor, civic leader, author. “Nancy” Stevenson was born on June 8, 1928, in New Rochelle, New York, the daughter of William Bryant Backer and Fernanda Legare. Upon the death of her husband, Fernanda, who was descended from several prominent Charleston families, returned in 1932 to her Charleston home with Nancy and her brother. Nancy attended Ashley Hall School and was awarded a bachelor of arts degree from Smith College in 1949. From 1950 to 1954 she was married to Olav Moltke-Hansen, a Norwegian diplomat, and lived in Norway and New York City with their two sons. From 1952 to 1954 she worked for the New York Herald Tribune, writing book reviews and doing overseas reporting. After a divorce, she returned to Charleston with her sons and taught junior high school. From 1956 to 1980 she was married to Norman Williams Stevenson of Charleston, an attorney and state legislator. They had three children. She continued her interest in writing and, using a pseudonym, cowrote three mystery novels.
Stevenson was an active civic leader during the 1960s and 1970s, with a special interest in drama and historic preservation. Between 1965 and 1978 she was a trustee of the Historic Charleston Foundation, cochair of the Save Charleston Foundation, trustee and secretary of the College of Charleston Foundation, president of Footlight Players, and vice president of the South Carolina Historical Society. Frustrated by the lack of support for historic preservation from the General Assembly, she decided to run for office in 1974 and won Charleston’s House District 110 seat. She was reelected in 1976. Her two major legislative interests were the Fiscal Accountability Act, which mandated a more uniform fiscal reporting system, and the Water Reporting Act, designed to report water usage and allocate water in times of drought.
In 1978 Stevenson successfully ran for lieutenant governor, becoming the first woman to serve in a statewide office in South Carolina. As lieutenant governor, she worked with Governor Richard Riley to pass significant legislation designed to improve South Carolina schools. Colleagues described her as an effective leader of the Senate and an active participant in the governor’s policy discussions. She instituted the Lieutenant Governor’s Writing Awards Program, which presented awards to fifth-graders and eighth-graders for creative writing, and the Public Assistance Line (PAL), a toll-free line designed to help citizens find out which agency or organization to call for assistance with personal and public problems.
Although not an active member of women’s organizations, Stevenson demonstrated that women could be effective political leaders and work well with men. She set up the public hearings in the Senate devoted to the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to achieve South Carolina ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. She also worked to increase public awareness and support for victims of domestic violence. She chose not to run for reelection in 1982 but served in 1983–1984 as cochair of the steering committee for Ernest Hollings’s presidential campaign and as a member of the national Democratic platform accountability and steering committee. In 1984 she ran unsuccessfully for the Second Congressional District seat held by Republican congressman Floyd Spence.
Stevenson moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 1985 and turned her major efforts from politics to art. She established the Winston Gallery in Washington, which specialized in contemporary art. After a long struggle with breast cancer, Stevenson died at her home in Floyd, Virginia, on May 31, 2001.
Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1785. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.