Coverdell Scholar draws attention to 19th Amendment and civil discourse

Story and photos developed by University Communications.

Dr. Victoria Gordon
Dr. Victoria Gordon
A fter 15 years in public administration and 16 years teaching the subject—Dr. Victoria Gordon retired. But she wasn’t idle long.

Gordon turned quickly around and applied for the chance to be Georgia College & State University’s 2022 Paul D. Coverdell Visiting Scholar. It was the perfect opportunity to focus on her favorite teaching subject, “Women in Politics,” a topic she only taught five years before retiring.

In those years, she helped spearhead Western Kentucky University’s 100th celebration of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. That celebration deepened her interest.

“That, in turn, led me to wanting to continue to focus on the importance of the 19th Amendment in my teaching and service responsibilities,” Gordon said, “and it’s a nice tie-in to my Coverdell Visiting Scholar duties this semester at Georgia College.”

“Everybody has been so wonderful to work with here,” she said. “Everyone I’ve reached out to for help has been more than generous with their time, because this is not a one-woman show.”

Gordon, left, with Milledgeville Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan and a student.
Gordon, left, with Milledgeville Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan and a student.
Her passion for women’s rights was evident early in the semester. Gordon and Women’s Studies Professor Dr. Sabrina Hom took a group of students to a Milledgeville City Council meeting to hear the mayor proclaim the importance of the 19th Amendment.

Although the vote was won in 1920—Gordon’s students today are still fascinated and proud.

“That excitement was real and put textbook material into practice for them,” she said. “The students saw their government taking action and affirming the importance of women. I wish I could bottle that excitement. They may not recall the fight to vote or directly identify with it— but they can learn how exciting it is to exercise their right to vote.”

Recently, Gordon moderated a panel discussion in Magnolia Ballroom, featuring women who served in public office. Sponsored by Georgia College’s Department of Philosophy, Religion & Liberal Studies, the panel featured Mary Parham-Copelan, first woman mayor of Milledgeville; university president and former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox; and Skye Gess, Baldwin County Solicitor General.

Gordon, left, with GCSU President Cathy Cox and Baldwin County Solicitor General Skye Gess for a panel discussion on women in politics.
Gordon, left, with GCSU President Cathy Cox and Baldwin County Solicitor General Skye Gess for a panel discussion on women in politics.

In addition to teaching a “Women in Politics” course this semester, Gordon will also speak to a meeting on learning and retirement in September.

She’s working on several other projects that will be open to the public:

•    Constitution Week—Next week, Georgia College presents its annual Constitution Week. During the Constitution Week concert, starting at 6 p.m. Monday in Magnolia Ballroom, Gordon will give a lecture on “Journey to the Vote.” She was instrumental in securing Thursday’s academic speaker, Dr. Lynne Ford from the College of Charleston, for a talk on “Women and Politics” at noon in the Pat Peterson Museum Education Room at Heritage Hall.  State Rep. Stacey Evans will speak at that event too.
•    “Unbought”—At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, in the Pat Peterson Museum Education Room at Heritage Hall, Gordon is sponsoring a musical and theatrical performance by Core Ensemble. It’s about three African American women: journalist and women’s suffrage activist Ida B. Wells; Sally Hemmings, the enslaved who bore six of Thomas Jefferson’s children; and the first African American congresswoman from New York, Shirley Chisholm, who ran for U.S. President in 1972.
•    An exhibit—Various artifacts from Western Kentucky University on women politicians will be displayed beginning Sept. 19 through the end of the semester at Heritage Hall. Called “Journey to the Vote,” the exhibit will include political bumper stickers and buttons; replicas of flags used for women’s suffrage in parades and marches; and posters. There’ll be a pink pantsuit purchased by a woman to wear when voting for Hillary Clinton for U.S. President. Gordon will give a gallery talk on the items in October.

“The exhibit will be a hodgepodge of artifacts that will hopefully inspire some young women here to research all about Georgia women and politics,” Gordon said.

Throughout her different events, Gordon is focusing on the theme of civil discourse. She can’t explain why or when political discussions became so divided and full of rancor in America. But Gordon suspects one answer may be social media. Hiding behind anonymity makes some people more brazen and offensive, she said.

Gordon’s trying to understand the issue better, as she moves through her semester as the Coverdell Visiting Scholar. She’s researching organizations and approaches that will help campuses and communities promote healthy conversations about politics. Gordon hopes to form an initial faculty focus group to prepare others how to engage in difficult topics.

Her background as a city clerk and her years of teaching human resources management, as well as public and local government administration, prepared Gordon for this moment.

She’s been a grant writer and penned numerous municipal and public affairs articles, book chapters, research reports and two books: “Participatory Budgeting in the United States: a Guide for Local Government” and “Maternity Leave: Policy and Practice.” Gordon’s won scholarships and awards. Most recently, she received the Kentucky Historical Society’s 2020 Educational Programming Award.

Students listen to a recent panel discussion moerated by Gordon.
Students listen to a recent panel discussion moerated by Gordon.
Her expertise is now being harnessed and utilized to share the history of women in politics.

“First, the history of women in politics, or the lack thereof, makes it of interest to me,” Gordon said. “Second, the tortuous journey to the vote for women was just fascinating to me. Finally, teaching a subject matter gives you a whole other vantage point when you delve into a subject.”

Gordon was quoted recently in an article in the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier Journal about Women’s Equality Day, an annual celebration on Aug. 26. Society’s recognition of women in history is important but—like Gordon told the newspaper and reminds her students—the fight for equality is not over.  

The 19th Amendment has been around more than 100 years, but Gordon says young women still need to carry the torch, recognize the hard work done before and struggle forward with respectful dialogue.

“It’s important that those in decision-making positions at the local, state and federal level include women’s voices. Better decisions are made when we consider a variety of options in policy making,” Gordon said.

My message to all students in all classes is we must respect our differences that exist and respect the differing opinions we have, and my overall hope is that students exercise their right to vote and not take that right for granted.
– Dr. Victoria Gordon