Jenny Sanford has donated to the College of Charleston boxes of scrapbooks, emails, letters and thousands of other items kept during her marriage to Mark Sanford, a trove that sheds new light on her role as first lady and her ex-husband's campaigns for Congress and governor.
Jenny Sanford donated the materials in the summer of 2012 to the college's Special Collections Department. Archivists recently finished cataloguing 16 boxes of materials for what it calls the “Jenny Sanford Papers.” The documents are available to the public.
In a recent interview, Jenny Sanford said she was moving last August and needed to downsize. “I was either going to donate them to someone who could use them, or throw them out. ”
She said she thought the materials would be especially useful to researchers interested in election campaigns. While married, she ran her husband's congressional and gubernatorial campaigns. They never lost an election.
Taken together, the materials provide a front-seat view of one of South Carolina's most dynamic political couples. Some materials are surprisingly personal and include a wedding album and emails the Sanfords sent each other in April 2009 about their unraveling marriage. They divorced later that year after Mark Sanford's public confession that he secretly left the state to visit his now-fiancee, Maria Belen Chapur, in Argentina.
The collection also contains thousands of letters, cards and emails that friends and strangers sent Jenny Sanford after the affair came to light. Many congratulated her for not standing by her husband during the news conference. Scores also wrote that they too had husbands and wives who were unfaithful. One suggested she move to Minnesota because of its good schools and wholesome values. During her book tour, a person handed her a voodoo doll with a note that said, “Don't get mad, get even.”
She said this outpouring was one reason she decided to write a book. “Some people still email me to this day.”
She donated the materials last summer at the urging of John M. Rivers Jr., a Charleston businessman and board director with the college's Friends of the Library group, said Harlan Greene, the library's senior manuscript and reference archivist. Greene said some of the materials were “very poignant,” especially a scrapbook that Jenny put together for their 15th wedding anniversary with the title “15 years of bliss!”
Greene and Cara McHugh, a processing archivist with the library, organized and catalogued the materials and created a research guide. The department has a large backlog, which is common at many archives, and is why the materials weren't ready for public inspection until this spring. The archival process took four weeks.
“I could tell she was careful about what she gave us,” McHugh said, adding that many of the materials involved her husband's campaigns and programs she pushed as First Lady.
Some of the most revealing materials are notebooks of Jenny's from between 2004 and 2010, when her husband was governor. They're simple spiral notebooks that a college student might use, but inside are extensive notes that Jenny made about legislative battles and other issues.
On one page, she diagrammed a state of the state speech. On another she wrote about efforts to privatize Santee Cooper. “Santee Cooper — competitive process needed for study so no future questions arise re competitiveness of bid … Marshall wants to call number of banks and get proposals in writing.”
She scribbled notes to call Jon Lerner, a Washington, D.C., political consultant, and comments about some of her husband's bruising battles with the Legislature. In one, she apparently paraphrased a quote from powerful state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence: “Leatherman — 'here b/f sanford, will remain after ms, ms will be footprints in the sand.' ”
The notebooks also show how she juggled the affairs of state with family needs. When mold was found in the Governor's Mansion, she waged an aggressive campaign to have it removed. On one page, she quoted Leviticus, scribbling: “If your house be contaminated with plagues, molds and leprosy, put the contents in the middle and set it aflame.” On another page was a drawing by one of her sons.
McHugh said she was impressed by Jenny Sanford's business-like focus. “You could see how smart she was. Once she discovered that Mark was unfaithful, she flew into action.” Within months of Mark's tearful confession on June 24, 2009, at the Statehouse, Jenny had a draft for her future bestselling book, “Staying True.” Within six months, she filed for divorce.
Also included are letters from Mark to Jenny when he was in Congress. “They were very sweet,” McHugh said. “It seemed like he was really trying, but once he got to the Statehouse, those letters trailed off.”
Jenny Sanford donated the papers months before U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint stepped down, which in turn prompted Gov. Nikki Haley to appoint Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, to the Senate. This created a vacancy for the 1st District Congressional seat, which Mark Sanford filled two weeks ago when he won a special election.
The “Jenny Sanford Papers” is among the more than 500 separate manuscript collections at the college's Special Collections Department. Inside the department's fireproof and climate-controlled vaults are documents about the city's rich Jewish heritage and original notes and manuscripts from James Rigney, who under the pen name Robert Jordan wrote worldwide bestselling science fiction novels. Rigney died in 2007.
Jenny Sanford said the college was a much safer place to keep items than a house on a barrier island such as Sullivan's. She said her sons might someday be interested in the materials, and because of her donation to the college, they will always have access to them, but “I was starting a fresh chapter.”