A Forgotten Dean? Thomas R. Gordon


As many know, the current University of Louisville has absorbed the history, alumni and traditions of the many Louisville institutions that it merged with over the years.  Among these institutions was the Jefferson School of Law, which was founded in 1905 to provide legal education at night and weekends to working-class Louisvillians.  Its early boosters were Benjamin F. Washer, Judge Shackelford Miller and, the subject of today's legal ephemera, Circuit Judge Thomas R. Gordon, who served as the school's dean in the late teens and throughout the 1920s.

Gordon, a Democrat, was elected to the Jefferson County Circuit Court in 1902 and served in that capacity until his death in 1929.  Gordon's parents were both born in Georgia, but had settled in Owingsville, Kentucky by the time that young Thomas was born in 1854.  I have not yet ascertained details of his early education, but in 1890 he joined with University of Louisville graduate John C. Strother (class of 1869), a Trimble County native, to form the extremely successful partnership, Strother & Gordon. The firm, which was dissolved by neccesity upon Gordon's election, had among its clients such prominent institutions as the Mutual Life Insurance Company of Kentucky and the Louisville Title Company.

After his election in 1902, the voters faithfully returned Gordon to office until 1929, when he died of a stroke, complicated by heart disease.  (At this time, death did not prevent a good Democrat from voting; it was, however, a more severe impediment to standing for office).  Judge Gordon was buried among his constituents in Cave Hill Cemetery.

The item reproduced is a campaign calling-card of a type widely used in elections in Kentucky during this era. The obverse (shown left; click for larger version) has a simpler message, using the long-time symbol of the Kentucky Democracy, the proud rooster.  In the lever-action voting booths of my youth, this symbol (along with the Republican log cabin) clearly marked the switch one flipped to vote the straight ticket.

For additional information:

Cox, Dwayne, and William James Morison. The University of Louisville. Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky, 2000.

RALE 1.3.  (Photos linked to flickr entry).