James Strom Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902 in Edgefield to John William Thurmond and Eleanor Gertrude Strom. He was educated in the Edgefield County public schools, and graduated from Clemson College (now Clemson University) in 1923 with a degree in horticulture. He was a farmer, teacher and athletic coach until 1929, when he became the Edgefield County superintendent of education until 1933. He read law with his father, was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1930, and served as the Edgefield Town and County attorney until 1938.
Senator Thurmond was elected to the South Carolina Senate in 1933 and represented Edgefield until he was elected to the Eleventh Circuit judgeship. During World War II he left the judgeship temporarily to serve in the U.S. Army. In 1946 he ran successfully for Governor of South Carolina, and served in this capacity until 1951. He resumed his law practice after leaving the governorship, and became president of the Reserve Officers Association in 1954. He later retired as a Major General, U.S. Army Reserves. In the same year he ran as a write-in candidate for U.S. Senate against Edgar Brown upon the death of U.S. Senator Burnet Rhett. He won the election, becoming the first person in U.S. history to be elected to a major office by write–in ballot. He resigned from the Senate in 1956 in fulfillment of a campaign promise and was re-elected to the Senate that same year.
Senator Thurmond served on several Senate committees including Armed Services, and Judiciary and Veterans Affairs. He was President Pro Tempore and served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He was instrumental in the “southern strategy” that won the White House for Richard Nixon in 1968. He is the author of The Faith We Have Not Kept. He received the USO’s “Spirit of Hope” award in 1998 on Capitol Hill, which is named for comedian Bob Hope, and goes to Americans whose patriotism and service to U.S. troops reflects that of Hope. He brought his Senate career to a close in January 2003. His record stands as the longest serving and oldest Senator in U.S. history with 48 years at age 100.
Senator Thurmond married Nancy Janice Moore in 1968 and they had four children: Nancy Moore (1971–1993), James Strom, II, Juliana “Julie” Gertrude, and Paul Reynolds.