COLUMBIA, S.C. - It was a coupling that set tongues wagging and gossips whispering throughout South Carolina in the late 1960s.
Even some relatives of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond wondered if indeed their 64-year-old distinguished family member was carrying on with a 20-year-old coed, Nancy Moore.
"It seems disgusting to me that people seem to thrive on rumors," one of Thurmond's relatives, cousin-in-law Addie Elise Byrd, wrote to him on May 17, 1967. "Anyhow, I'm assuming that the reports of you and Nancy Moore are false."
Within a week, Thurmond wrote back, "With regard to the rumor that you have heard, it seems that this rumor has gone all over the State. I am not engaged to anyone, but it seems that some people are intent upon spreading rumors to this effect."
And while Thurmond was not engaged then, he was in close contact with Moore, who in 18 months would become his second wife.
Recently discovered letters in the Clemson University archives reviewed by The (Columbia) State reveal early details of the relationship between Thurmond and the much younger Moore.
The two would marry in 1968 and over the next eight years had four children. The couple separated in the early 1990s, but did not divorce.
In the summer of 1965, Thurmond was 62, a widower and, according to letters at Clemson, was telling people that he had "no plans to marry again."
However, that August after winning the Miss South Carolina competition, Moore visited Washington. The 18-year-old Duke student, who grew up in Aiken, spent time with Thurmond.
Thurmond typically gave office visitors small tokens or pictures. He gave Moore an apron from Portugal and a knife, tips on health food and a photo of himself.
Moore sent a two-page handwritten letter of thanks for the "fabulous 24 hours I spent in Washington."
She wrote, "You might be interested to know that I am planning to learn to prepare protein breakfasts in your apron from Portugal and I keep my hands clean for 'politicking' with your knife so many thanks!" She added, "It is unbelievable when I think of all the things we did and I really learned a great deal about our Capital!" She finished, "And thank you, Senator, for your time and hospitality. Someday I shall repay you for your kindnesses. I shall be following you in the news and I hope to see you soon!"
The two stayed in touch that winter and Moore worked in Thurmond's Washington office as a clerk the following summer.
Moore returned to Duke for the fall semester in 1966, but planned to go back her job in Thurmond's office on her next summer break.
Letters showed that Thurmond took an interest in Moore's position.
On March 16, 1967, Thurmond wrote Moore that he had arranged for her to stay "at the Young Women's Christian Home during your tenure on my staff this summer.... I will arrange to place you on the payroll effective June 1, but I understand that you will be reporting for duty on Monday, June 5."
Rumors swirled that Thurmond might again marry.
In an Aug. 4, 1967, letter, a friend wrote Thurmond, "I heard you were getting married.... If so the very best to you."
Six days later, Thurmond answered, "I have no marriage plans, by the way."
Before classes began that fall, Moore transferred from Duke to the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
It was Thurmond who wrote to Moore's brother, Paul, then living Alaska, with his sister's change.
In a Sept. 7, 1967, letter, Thurmond wrote,
"She has decided to leave Duke and enter the University of South Carolina this fall, and I think she will like it there," Thurmond wrote in a letter dated Sept. 7, 1967. "She is very happy over the idea of going to Carolina."
Once Moore entered her new school, Thurmond wrote her a two-sentence letter on Sept. 18, 1967.
"Dear Nancy: Mr. Taylor wanted you to have the box that is being forwarded to you under separate cover for your cooperation and assistance in the matter of the towels. I hope you are doing nicely, and with best wishes, Sincerely, Strom Thurmond."
On Dec. 8, 1968, Thurmond announced his engagement to Moore.
They were married two weeks later, on Dec. 22, 1968.