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Los Alamos Monitor
2 April 2008
Spotlight on Los Alamos: She’s right on schedule – her own schedule,
By Katy Korkos
Many women follow a path from high school to college, marriage in their
20s, a career and then retirement in their 60s, sometimes paired with
a withdrawal from public life. Not so for Gloria Cordova, longtime Los
Alamos resident, who has charted her own path, and followed many of
the same rites of passage, only in different decades.
Her mother, Cora, was a strong believer in the power of education, perhaps
all the more because she had to leave school in the 10th grade to help
raise her siblings after her mother died.
Cora learned to play the piano from watching her daughters at their
lessons, and learned along with them in academic lessons as well.
“Cora’s Kitchen Table” was the informal neighborhood school, and eventually
became the title of a scholarship established in her name.
“My mother always said education is something no one can take away from
you,” Cordova said.
However, Cordova’s father felt that college would be a waste of time
for his daughters, who were likely to marry and never use their educations.
He always encouraged them to study, but thought that business classes
would be more useful than college prep subjects. When she graduated
from high school, she sought the college education she wanted in a convent.
“Growth and development” have been the lifelong goals for Cordova, who
got her college education from the Sisters of Charity in Ohio, where
she lived inside convent walls throughout her 20s.
In addition to earning her bachelor’s degree, Cordova was trained as
a teacher. She was eager for the order to change and modernize, but
the pace of change was too slow for her to tolerate, so she left after
a long struggle with the church.
She says that many of the changes she advocated at the time came about
10 years later.
“When I look back, I often say my roots of feminism were planted in
the convent,” Cordova said.
The Sisters of Charity had equipped her with a good education and a
career, but it took a while for her to learn skills like driving a car
and renting an apartment.
Nevertheless, Cordova came to Los Alamos to teach chemistry at Los Alamos
High School, fresh from the convent, with a few possessions in a small
She taught for several years before moving on to a job at Los Alamos
National Laboratory, where she was first a section leader in training
and development and later in the public information office.
Cordova grew up in a traditional Hispanic family in Trinidad, Colo.,
a family with hundreds of years of history in northern New Mexico and
An ardent genealogist, Cordova has traced her roots through the Cordova,
Santistevan, Barron and Carmona families, to many of New Mexico’s founding
Although in many cases it is the father’s stories that are recorded
in history, it is the women’s stories that have always intrigued her
more, she said.
Those women’s stories became the basis of her Ph. D. dissertation, completed
after she had retired from the lab, the year she turned 65.
In the field of transformational phenomenology, “Norteña de Nuevo Mexico:
Finding Voice and Claiming Identity” is the title of the dissertation,
in which she explores common threads in the experiences of the women.
“Women’s stories are unique, yet universal,” Cordova said, adding that
simply telling their stories has been a powerful process for the women
who were interviewed for the dissertation.
“People told me, ‘I didn’t think my story mattered,” she said.
After getting her doctorate, Cordova married her dear friend Dan Winske.
The storybook wedding was complete with the white gown, traditional
cake and reception.
They have been friends for such a long time that she still introduces
Dan as “my friend” rather than “my husband,” she said.
Cordova has been active in women’s issues through the American Association
of University Women, helped to organize the Women in Science program
at the laboratory and joined Mana del Norte as a charter member.
She said she realized that she had identified herself as a woman and
as a member of a community when she was in the convent, but did not
identify herself as a Latina or Chicana until her consciousness was
raised during a conversation with Carmen Rodriguez, founder of the local
organization that works to promote and support leadership and development
for Latina women.
Cordova’s happiest pastime now is getting to know two-year-old Laurel
Elena Souders, who is the granddaughter she never had. Souders’ grandmother,
Anita, Cordova’s first cousin, passed away from cancer shortly after
Laurel Elena was born.