Gladys White Jordan received one of the University of Mary Washington’s most significant awards, the Monroe Medal, at a ceremony prior to the Women’s History Month keynote address on Monday, March 14. The presentation was made by Rhonda VanLowe, a member of the University’s Board of Visitors.
This distinction marks only the fourth time the medal has been presented at UMW. The award, given jointly by the President and the Board of Visitors, recognizes individuals who in some extraordinary way have provided service to humanity and society that is lasting.
The Monroe Medal, established in 2001, pays tribute to those who keep with the tradition of service of President James Monroe, for whom the award is named. Prior recipients of the medal include Carlisle M. Williams Jr. in 2003, William H. Leighty ’77 in 2004 and Georgia State Sen. Nan Orrock ’65 in 2013.
A resolution recently adopted by the Board honors Mrs. Jordan “in recognition of her perseverance to succeed in the face of discrimination and her lifelong commitment to education, social justice and equal opportunity.”
Gladys White Jordan has been an educator and community leader for many years and is no stranger to the UMW community.
Born in 1938 and raised in Stafford County, she worked along alongside her parents as a child in Brompton, home of Grellet C. Simpson, who served as president from 1956 until 1974, and his wife Dorothy Simpson.
“My mother worked as a housekeeper for the Simpsons,” said Mrs. Jordan. “I would help her when they had parties.”
Due to the prevailing practice at the time, Mrs. Jordan was unable to attend Mary Washington because of her race. Believing in her ability to succeed, Dr. and Mrs. Simpson helped provide financial support while she attended Virginia State College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1960 and a master’s degree in 1968.
“I started teaching right out of college, teaching high school social studies. I taught for 35 years and enjoyed it tremendously,” she said. “Most of those students were eager to learn, they wanted to better themselves.”
She was named teacher of the year twice in Richmond, was honored by the NAACP as an “unsung hero” and was selected as a National Honor Society commencement speaker at Franklin Military Academy in Richmond, where she was among the first faculty members of the first public military academy in the United States.
In a testament to her passion for education, the Franklin Military Academy named its chapter of the National Honor Society for Mrs. Jordan.
Mrs. Jordan retired in 1996 and has been a resident of Richmond since 1960. Now that she’s no longer teaching, she spends her time writing, attending meetings and volunteering with her church.
Her nephew David White graduated from UMW in 1991 and worked as the minority admissions recruiter for several years.