Dr. Lord grew up in the coal mining community of Williamson, West Virginia, where she began standing out and challenging the status quo early. Her West Virginia upbringing, in the same area where the Hatfield/McCoy feud took place, gave her a unique blend of pragmatic independence and mountaineer charm, which she has used since her early years to be an effective advocate for a variety of issues.
“Where I grew up, men worked hard, and so did women, and if you were good at something it didn’t matter what your gender was. This gave strengths to women not often seen in that era. And to me, it was very empowering,” Dr. Lord said.
Early on, she seemed destined to have a life in the public sphere. Her start in public life began when she, as a friendly toddler, waved at townsfolk from a parked car and was immediately asked to be featured in a statewide public service newspaper ad to discourage children from playing with matches.
At Williamson High School, she was valedictorian and fought established tradition to become the first female student body president.
She then attended West Virginia University, where she earned her B.A. degree. At WVU, she served as Chair of the Freshman Leadership Committee and Vice-President of the Junior class. When the campus hosted a televised mock Republican convention in 1964, Lord, who was elected as a delegate, chose to nominate Senator Margaret Chase Smith as President of The United States (See top left photo in heading). Her innovative approach of avoiding using gender pronouns kept the audience spellbound in anticipation of the identity of the unknown nominee. Thus began her lifelong commitment to empowering women in political leadership.
To her disappointment, females were not allowed in the WVU marching band. Thus, Lord became a Freshman and Varsity cheerleader and Secretary of the WVU Varsity Club. She represented WVU as West Virginia College Queen in the National College Queen competition in New York City. A Board of Governor’s Achievement Scholar, she was inducted into Mortar Board, Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with High Honors. She also worked as a dorm proctor for four years as she was paying her own way through college.
Indiana University awarded Lord a four-year National Defense Education Act Fellowship where she earned her M.A. degree in Educational Psychology and her Ph. D. degree in Educational Psychology/Developmental Social Psychology. Even before she completed her doctoral dissertation, she was hired by The University of Tennessee as an Assistant Professor in Psychology, ultimately becoming the first tenure track female professor in her field at the school. Dr. Lord’s dissertation focused on ways to improve equality and education for Appalachian children.
At the University of Tennessee, she created a research center, The Appalachian Center for Educational Equity, and directed the publication of four textbooks on female development, including the first textbook on Appalachian women.
In 1985, she returned to West Virginia for public service, having been recruited by the governor to serve in his cabinet as the state’s first female Commissioner of Human Services.
She has continued to support Appalachia people through board service, educational endowments, foundations, and other activities.