Nancy Mace didn't set out to make history. She merely wanted to succeed.
"I was looking to go in quietly, do my thing," said Mace, a former Atlanta resident now living with her husband and two children in the Charleston, S.C. area, where she is from.
High school had been a grind and she ended up earning her diploma through a community college. The Citadel, her dad's alma mater, seemed appealing but had not yet admitted women. Then Shannon Faulkner became the first female cadet to enroll, in 1995. Faulkner soon left but had cracked the door open for the first woman to graduate from The Citadel. That woman was Mace, who graduated in 1999. She also holds a masters degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of Georgia.
"She has written her name in lights in the history of The Citadel," the late Pat Conroy
, a fellow graduate, said of Mace during a 2009 book tour stop in Atlanta. "I'm as proud of her as I can possibly be."
Mace, who wrote a 2001 memoir titled "In The Company of Men: A Woman at The Citadel," wasn't able to attend Conroy's funeral, held earlier this month in Beaufort, S.C. As South Carolina Coalitions Director for presidential hopeful Donald Trump, she was in Ohio campaigning at the time.
"Devastated by his loss," she said after Conroy died. "So generous, kind and talented."
She had worked in real estate and as a crisis communications consultant before pivoting into politics to run against U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham. He was re-elected in 2014. A year later, the former Citadel knob announced she was plunging into campaign life once again.
Today her experience is a part of Citadel history, and the institution features this quote from her on its web site: "My time spent at The Citadel was the most valuable preparation for the real world I could have ever received. As with anything worth having, the hard work, dedication, drive, tears and perseverance have to come before you are able to reap the rewards."