Ahead of the Curve: The Legacy of Empowering Women at Gordon

Authored by Sammy-Jo Watt

An image of Gordon State College building a dressing room for young women

Taken at the end of 1965, this photo shows Gordon Military College providing women their own dressing room despite not being required by law to do so. The college is providing equality among the genders by not only giving women their own, private dressing room but also, at the above words indicate, also increasing their physical education.

Unfortunately, society has not always provided equality among its inhabitants. Dr. Anne Sutherland noted that there is an “urgent need to extend…protection…to women in institutions of higher education” (History Matters, n.d.). Regrettably, the serious issue for discrimination against women was not truly solved with women speaking out, the 19th Amendment, or the Equal Protection Clause. Women could vote but still had difficulty with access to higher education. According to the Law Library, “the Equal Protection Clause does not require states to satisfy the same strict standards for gender discrimination as for racial” (The Law Library, n.d.).

This sexual misjustice in higher education was so horrible against women that the federal government had to step in to combat this bigotry. According to the Department of Justice, “in June 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments…into law. Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that has removed many barriers that once prevented people, on the basis of sex, from participating in educational opportunities and careers of their choice” (U.S. DoJ 2015). Until 1972, many women had no voice to support themselves.

Fortunately, the women at Gordon Military College in December of 1965 didn’t need advocates like the Federal Government or women like Dr. Sutherland because the college did it for them. Gordon, and all its incarnations, have been influencing Barnesville, GA for over 100 years by actively supporting women even when many of the world did the opposite. The first incarnation was in 1852 as “Barnesville Male and Female High School” (GSC Factbook 2017, 15). In addition to supporting women from its conception, Gordon proudly cites that in 1875 a woman, “Alice Wooten[,] became the first graduate of Gordon Institute”—the second incarnation of Gordon Institute (circa. 1872) (GSC Factbook 2017, 15). General B. Gordon, the college namesake and a historically influential man to Georgia, “attended the first commencement exercises” which included “Alice Wooten of Monroe County [who] became Gordon Institute’s first graduate” (Pye 2004, under “History”). And before the Title IX law passed, Gordon was increasing women’s physical education and building them a separate dressing room (as the artifact indicates). One I, myself, have used many times.

This institute is similar to that of St. John’s University and its Vincentian tradition it: “foster[ing] a world view and to further efforts toward global harmony and development” and “embod[ing] the spirit of compassionate concern for others” (St. Johns University, n.d.). Gordon State College is a place “where students flourish” by providing them with “an exceptional education through innovative teaching and engaged learning for the benefit of the world in which we live” (GSC Factbook 2017, 9). Not only this, but Gordon also strives “to remember and celebrate the heritage of the college and its graduates” (GSC Factbook 2017, 9). Gordon stays true to its history, promotes equality, and continues providing a voice of equality by giving women a chance at a better life by way of an education. I know this because Gordon influenced my life. I stand proudly a female graduate of Gordon State College. I am evidence of their dedication to “serv[ing] the broader community” to which I will mimic in my service to my community as a LIS professional (GSC Factbook 2017, 10).


Gordon Military College. 1965. “Building of female dressing room.” The Gordon Reveille. 17 Dec 1965.  Gordon State College Archives, Barnesville, GA, Photograph by Sammy-Jo Watt, Courtesy of Gordon State College.

Gordon State College. 2017. GSC Factbook 2017-2018. Accessed 14 March 2019. https://www.gordonstate.edu/ir/_doc/gsc-fact-book-2017-2018.pdf

History Matters. n.d. “‘The Higher, the Fewer’: Discrimination Against Women in Academia.” Accessed 14 March 2019. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6462/.

Law Library. n.d. “Colleges and Universities – Gender Discrimination.” Accessed 14 March 2019. https://law.jrank.org/pages/5368/Colleges-Universities-Gender-Discrimination.html.

Pye, Beth. “Gordon State College.” 2004. In New Georgia Encyclopedia. Last modified 30 July 2018. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/education/gordon-state-college.

St. John’s University. n.d. “Our Mission.” Accessed 14 March 2019. https://www.stjohns.edu/about/history-and-facts/our-mission

United States Department of Justice. 2015. “Title IX.” Accessed 14 March 2019. https://www.justice.gov/crt/title-ix.

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