Collection documents trailblazing career of Sandra Thompson Herman


A trailblazing political leader who led efforts to preserve the Atchafalaya Basin has donated a collection of her papers and memorabilia to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Sandra Thompson Herman helped create the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in 1976, and served as its first secretary. In 1979, she became the first woman to run for secretary of state, a race she narrowly lost.

After founding and managing an oilfield services company, Herman returned to state government in the 1990s and led the multimillion-dollar Atchafalaya Basin Program. The initiative promoted tourism to the Basin and enhanced recreational access to the nation’s largest river swamp.

The 10 boxes of materials she donated to the University offer a comprehensive record of her political and business careers, Herman said.

A signing ceremony in March marked the collection’s formal transfer to UL Lafayette. It will be archived in Special Collections in Edith Garland Dupré Library.

Zachary Stein is head of Special Collections. He said Herman’s papers and memorabilia complement archival sources the University already holds related to Louisiana women. These include materials Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco donated in 2018 that chronicle her gubernatorial tenure.

Those records are held by the University’s Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center.

“In many ways, the Blanco and Herman collections go hand in hand,” Stein said, adding that the materials collectively provide “a new look at what women have contributed to Louisiana” politics and history. 

Herman and Blanco both served in the administration of then-Gov. Mike Foster. Blanco was lieutenant governor, while Herman directed the Atchafalaya Basin Program, a position she kept once Blanco became governor in 2004.

They were bound in another way. Both were women in a political world dominated by men.

“We talked about what it was like being a woman in politics,” Herman recalled. “Here’s what I always said and what she always said: Being a woman can open doors for you, but once you are there, you have to work twice as hard to prove you can do the job, that you are capable of it, that you are smart enough.”

Herman is a north Louisiana native who holds a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Louisiana University and an MBA from LSU. She lives in New Orleans. But she said UL Lafayette’s proximity to the Atchafalaya Basin led her to donate the archival collection to the University.

In addition, she and her husband, Russ Herman, have established a $25,000 endowed scholarship fund in the Department of Communication that will be managed by the UL Lafayette Foundation

“Lafayette is the heartbeat of the Atchafalaya Basin area. A lot of people who really believe in the great Atchafalaya live in and around Lafayette. Lafayette’s very important to me,” Herman said.

Photo caption: Sandra Thompson Herman speaks prior to a signing ceremony held in March that marked the transfer of a collection of her papers and memorablia to UL Lafayette. (Photo credit: Rachel Rafati / University of Louisiana at Lafayette)