The Grand Dean
The first time Nell Trotter tried to join the faculty at Georgia State, the administration showed her the door. Trotter, who had a master’s degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin, had taken a course in journalism and commercial law at Georgia State when the institution was the Evening School of Commerce and later approached director George Sparks about an available teaching position.
It was 1931, and Sparks’ response was blunt. He told her it was the school’s policy not to hire women.
Trotter, as it turned out, was not one to give up easily. She kept after Sparks and, in 1933, she was hired teach Introduction to Ethics for $50 a month, becoming the school’s second female faculty member. She would remain with the institution in various academic and administrative roles until her retirement in 1971.
In her journal, Trotter recalled her starting salary as comfortable. “Money went so far then that we were able to employ a maid at $5 a week; buy a washing machine and ironer and a vacuum cleaner to make the housework lighter.”
(It turns out that Trotter wasn’t fond of housekeeping. Her son, Michael Trotter, an attorney with Taylor English Duma LLP says, “She wasn’t much of a cook. We used to joke that she couldn’t even pour a good Coca-Cola.”)
In 1953, Trotter had returned to the university (then known as Atlanta Division, University of Georgia) after a leave of absence as the assistant dean of students and assistant professor of business education. Trotter championed student involvement in campus activities, and helped secure several fraternity and sorority chapters that are still a part of campus life today.
“Dean Trotter was a staunch supporter of students,” remembers Karen Williams, who began working in Trotter’s office when she was a freshman at Georgia State College in 1966. “As she did for all students, she encouraged and supported my activities. She gave selflessly to every student with whom she counseled and she looked for the best in everybody. She did require that men act like gentlemen and that the women conduct themselves as ladies.”
Trotter witnessed the university grow from being housed in a former orphanage on Walton Street to a full-blown downtown campus.
As a dean of students on an urban campus, she had a front-row seat to the social and cultural changes of the 1960s. Of the onset of the “cultural decade,” she wrote, “The arrival of a new subculture brought many changes in dress, housing, drug experimentation and intra-personal relationships. These were to become more pronounced.”
In 1962, Trotter was named Atlanta’s Woman of the Year for her dedication to improving student life and education. Just a year after Trotter’s retirement, Atlanta Mayor (and Georgia State alumnus) Sam Massell declared May 17, 1972, Nell H. Trotter Day in Atlanta.
These days, Georgia State recognizes students for substantial volunteer work, leadership and campus involvement through the Nell H. Trotter Student Leadership Award — an honor dedicated to Trotter’s outstanding commitment to student involvement and leadership at Georgia State.
“I learned so much from Dean Trotter,” Williams says. “She was a gifted educator and professional in everything she did.”
Trotter died in 1996 at the age of 91.