I have chosen to write about Ms. Nellie Dunaway Duke, a living legend in our state, who has spent decades working to improve the lives of women in Georgia and throughout the world. Nellie is a Charter Member, and served as Chairperson/ CEO of the Georgia Commission on Women from 1994 until January 2016. having garnered bi-partisan respect, she was appointed in 1992 by then Lt. Governor Pierre Howard and later re-appointed by both Democratic and Republican administrations. As part of her work with the Commission on Women, she published “Women & the Law; A Guide to Women’s Rights in Georgia,” which she counts as one of her proudest professional accomplishments.
A native of Rome, Floyd County, Georgia, Nellie expresses her true Southern wit this way, “I was born in a cave (just kidding) but I did come three weeks early in the middle of a snow storm, at my paternal grand-parents farm home in Cave Springs, Georgia, on the 20th anniversary of International Women’s Day, March 8, 1931.”
Nellie lettered in basketball, and was a football cheerleader at Rome Girl’s High School. where she graduated at age sixteen in 1947. She continued her education at Carroll Lynn School of Business and The 9th District Democratic Women’s Network adopted Nellie’s Motto: “I compare the evolution of basketball to the evolution of women, we are no longer confined to half court, and we can dribble all we want, now, SHOOT!”
Nellie and her husband Henry moved to Carrollton, Georgia in 1964, where they continued to raise their five children. Her work experience includes sales, marketing and interior decorating. She was a Methodist Youth Counselor, serving her church as Director of Christian Education and Youth. She was the first Director of Children’s Camp for the North Georgia Methodist Conference, at Camp Glisson, and also served as Teen Director at Carrollton Recreation Department
From 1970 until 1982, she was employed as a Field Representative for American Cancer Society, honing her skills in education and political advocacy. Her work as an advocate for women also began in the 1970’s, when she served as area coordinator for ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment, in Georgia. She continued to lobby locally, statewide and nationally for health, education and women’s rights during the 1980’s. In the 1990’s, then President Bill Clinton appointed her to The National Commission on Women in American History.
Nellie’s advocacy has continued as she served on the Board of twelve organizations. She founded the West Georgia Women’s Forum, Stopping Violence Where We Live, Carroll County Veterans Memorial Park and the Carroll Association for Prevention of Sexual Assault. She served on the Advisory Board of the Possible Woman Foundation, Atlanta Women’s Network and Women’s Information Network. For four years, she served on the Community Advisory Board of Southwire Company. She was instrumental in founding the Georgia Osteoporosis Initiative and the Childhood Health & Over Weight Initiative (CHOW). Her most recent achievement was as Founding Chair and CEO of Georgia Women’s Institute and Georgia Women’s Museum/. She serves the Leadership Council of Stennis Center for Public Service and its Southern Women in Public Service Conference. She served four years as Chair of USDOL’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Stakeholder’s Task Force, where she gained invaluable training and expertise in employment issues for women. In 2016, she assisted the Women’s Bureau of USDOL in compiling information concerning Georgia’s working women. She has also served as a Charter Member of the Women’s Advisory Council for the Georgia Department of Corrections.
The Nellie Duke Annual Leadership Conference was established in her honor by the University of West Georgia. She still serves as Founder and Chair of the Georgia Woman of the Year Committee, where the first “Annual Nellie Duke Scholarship” was awarded in 2006.
The original “Steel Magnolia” Nellie, now in the middle of the eighth decade of life, never ceases to amaze me with her sunny smile, her positive attitude yet unrelenting passion ad an advocate for all issues related to women and girls. In this spirit, as a true Southern woman, Nellie knows that one can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”, as she is renowned in the halls of the Capitol for handing out her homemade “Nellie’s Jellies’, while at the same time persuading legislators to support her causes.*
Melissa Teague, March 2017
*Over the years, Ms. Duke has received numerous honors and awards including:|
The Mamie K. Taylor Georgia Business & Professional Women’s Club’s Award
Georgia AAUW Leadership Award
Georgia Legislature’ 25 Women for the 21st Century Award
Georgia Commission on Women Magnolia Leadership Award
Possible Woman Leadership Award
Georgia House & Senate Resolutions in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009
Darton College ‘s “Living a Life of Worth” Award
Turner Broadcasting Company’s Super 17 Award
National Organization of Women ‘s (NOW) “Living Woman of History” Award
Turknett Leadership Group’s “1st Annual Inspirator Award”
One of only 16 women in the United States to receive the International Alliance of Women’s “World of Difference” Award
Named “One of 25 Women for the 21st Century” by the Georgia Legislature
Named “Honorary State Senator by the Georgia Senate in 2008
The 2015 “Living Legacy Award” by the University of West Georgia’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion
In 2016, she received the Martin Army Community Award at Ft. Benning, Georgia, during their Women’s History Month celebration.