The Vermont Commission on Women has 16 Commissioners, 3 staff, and an Advisory Council with representatives of organizations whose interests align with the commission’s mission.
Commissioners are appointed: 8 by the Governor; 6 by the Legislature: 3 by the Senate Committee on Committees, 3 by the Speaker of the House; and 2 members, one each, from the Republican and Democratic parties. Commissioner terms are four years. Appointments are staggered and seats open recurrently.
The Commission is authorized by Vermont statute. Our meetings usually take place on the second Wednesday of the month from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.. Commissioners must commit to attend most of these meetings. There is no per diem for Commissioners, but travel is reimbursed at the federal rate. The most important requirement for serving on the Commission is simply a commitment to reducing discrimination and increasing opportunities for women in Vermont. Beyond that, Commissioners bring a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds, all of which add to our strength.
Commissioner Photo credits: Mary Claire Carroll (2013)
Chair of the Vermont Commission on Women
Commissioner Merrill is a partner in Montgomery and Merrill, P.C., a woman-owned public accounting firm in Burlington. She has served in board positions for many organizations that have focused on women's and family issues. In addition, she has been active in Business and Professional Women (BPW) in Vermont and in BPW/USA for over 15 years. Commissioner Merrill is a certified public accountant and holds a BA, Summa Cum Laude, from William Smith College and an MBA from Rochester Institute of Technology.
Commissioner Bailey is an attorney and currently the Casework Coordinator in Senator Bernie Sanders' Burlington Office. She has worked in constituent advocacy since 1997, and her primary interests are economic and social justice. She spent several years as a Staff Attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, Inc. and as an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Burlington. She served as Vice Chair of the Vermont Coalition for the Equal Rights Amendment, and as Chair of the Women's Division of the Vermont Bar Association. She was an original founder of the Burlington Community Land Trust (BCLT), and has been a member of the BCLT Board of Directors. She has served as a Board Member of the Committee On Temporary Shelter (COTS), and was a long time member of the Burlington Women's Council. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from Lincoln Memorial University, a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University and a Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
Commissioner Boland's interest in women's issues began with her involvement in Vermont's efforts to pass the equal rights amendment in the early 80's. She has remained concerned with women's issues throughout her work with senior management teams in education and state government. Commissioner Boland is currently human resource director for St. Johnsbury Academy. She was Commissioner of Human Resources (formerly Personnel) from 1997-2000 where she was a member of the Governor's Affirmative Action Council. Numerous community and civic involvements include serving as trustee for the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum and as Justice of the Peace for her hometown of Wheelock where she lives with her husband and two children. She holds a B.F.A. in photo illustration from the Rochester Institute of Technology and an M.A. in Education Administration and Supervision from Johnson State College.
Carol Buchdahl, R.N., M.A. is Manager of Leadership Development and Organizational Learning for the Continuing Education and Workforce Development Department of Vermont Technical College. Her work with CEWD involves facilitating and consulting for businesses and organizations throughout New England. Commissioner Buchdahl served in the Vermont Legislature from 1997-1999 as a representative from Georgia, and was Clerk of the House Commerce Committee. She presently serves as Secretary and Co-Chair of the Development Committee of Main Street Arts, Board of Directors in Saxtons River. Carol is the current chair of VCW's Health, Safety and Civil Rights Committee. Commissioner Buchdahl and her husband David spend as much of their spare time as they can with their five grandchildren.
Commissioner Dennett was born in Beirut, Lebanon, the daughter of a U.S. diplomat and an English teacher. Though she grew up in Massachusetts, Commissioner Dennett later returned to Lebanon with her mother and completed her last two years of high school in Beirut. She returned to the U.S. to get her BA at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass, and went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in art history at Post Pius XII Institute in Florence, Italy. She then returned to Beirut and became a journalist, first as a roving correspondent with the weekly English language feature magazine, The Middle East Sketch, and later as a reporter for the Beirut Daily Star. Ms. Dennett moved to New York City in 1975 following the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon. While working the UN beat she met her future husband, investigative journalist and author Gerard Colby. Dennett and Colby spent the next 18 years researching and writing for national, international and Vermont news sources, including writing a book on the genocide of Amazonian Indians, “Thy Will be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon” published by HarperCollins in 1995. The couple moved to Vermont in 1984 and in her spare time, Dennett became involved in local political and community issues. In 1986, she served as the chair of the ERA Task Force for Vermont NOW (National Organization for Women). From 1990-1994 she served on the board of the Franklin County Family Center, and was president of the board in 1994. She also “read for the law” in Vermont’s legal clerkship program and became a licensed attorney in 1997. Since 2002, she has held the position of “Volunteer in Politics” on the Executive Committee of the Vermont AFL-CIO. The position is designed to advance women’s leadership in the labor movement. In 2008 and 2010, she ran for Vermont Attorney General. She also co-taught with Gerard Colby “Introduction to Politics” and “International Economic Development” at Johnson State College. She is currently focusing on her law practice with an emphasis on family law, personal injury and consumer fraud cases.
Commissioner Dunham is Deputy Director and Creative Director of Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home in Manchester. She has a degree in Illustration from Art Center College of Design in California and has worked for thirty years as a producer and designer in the themed entertainment industry, including for Walt Disney Imagineering, Sony Development, and MCA Universal. Commissioner Dunham is a 2007 graduate of the Vermont Leadership Institute, is on the board of the Snelling Center for Government, and is a charter member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Commissioner Finn retired as Barre Town Clerk-Treasurer in 2000. She volunteers for many state and community organizations, and is currently member of the Barre Town Republican Committee, Finance Commissioner for the Washington County Republican Committee, Parliamentarian for the VT Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), volunteer at the Vermont Historical Library, member of the Barre Flags for Veterans Committee, and serves as a regional advisory council member of the UVM Extension Service. In the past, she served as President of the Vermont Town Clerk-Treasurer Association, President of the Vermont Government Finance Officers Association, President of American Association of University Women's Barre Branch and as State Regent and VP General of the DAR. She was also a member of the New England Municipal Clerks Association, and served on the Historical Records Advisory Board.
Commissioner Frey is Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Norwich University. As Dean, she was the first female dean of the College of Science and Mathematics and is the highest-ranking woman in academic administration at Norwich. She is also the first female full professor in mathematics, and was the first female tenured in the Mathematics Department. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Mathematics from the University of Vermont. She has completed seven exams towards Associateship in the Society of Actuaries. Commissioner Frey lives in Barre Town with her husband Scott and two children.
Shambulia Gadsden Sams
Commissioner Gadsden Sams was policy research analyst for Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity (formerly ALANA) in Brattleboro, VT. A native of Sacramento, CA, she came to Vermont as an AmeriCorps Member for Youth Services of Windham County serving as the Youth Outreach Coordinator. Before relocating to Vermont, Commissioner Gadsden Sams worked in Mombasa, Kenya for the community based organization Solidarity with Girls in Distress (SOLGIDI) as a case manager/community advocate for children of commercial sex workers and their mothers. She is very passionate in redefining the negative images of men and bridging the gap between men and women in the United States and abroad and working towards sustaining Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Holding a B.A. degree in International Relations with a concentration in Political Science from Shaw University, an AA degree in Ethnic Studies African American Emphasis from Sacramento City College, a certificate in Public Policy from the John W. Hope CIVITAS Institute, she is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree from SIT Graduate Institute in Sustainable Development with a concentration in Policy Analysis and Advocacy. Commissioner Gadsden Sams is an active member of Southern Vermont for Undoing Racism (SVUR) and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.
Commissioner Gartner is a resident of Rutland and has been a social studies teacher at Rutland High School (RHS) since 2005. She holds a BS in Journalism from Boston University and a M.Ed in Secondary Education from UMass-Boston. She is a participant in the Teaching American History Program at Castleton State College. Commissioner Gartner is the Rutland High School faculty representative to the Athletic Committee and lead advisor for the RHS Gay/Straight Alliance.
Susie Hudson serves as the National Committeewoman from Vermont on the Republican National Committee and currently works as a consultant. In February 2003, Governor Jim Douglas appointed her to serve as the Executive Director of the Vermont Commission on National and Community Service where she oversaw the State AmeriCorps programs. Previously she worked as the Executive Director of the Vermont Republican Party; Midwest Regional Legislative Political Director for the Republican National Committee and at the U.S. Department of Justice. Susie has also served as the Trustee of Public Funds for her hometown of East Montpelier and was elected twice as a Justice of the Peace, serving on the Board of Civil Authority. She is currently a member of the Enhanced 9-1-1 Board. She holds a B.S. Degree from the University of Vermont.
Dr. Felicia Kornbluh
Commissioner Kornbluh is the Director of the Program in Women’s and Gender Studies and an Associate Professor of History at the University of Vermont. She is an historian of social welfare, law, and grassroots politics in the twentieth century United States. Commissioner Kornbluh has written many articles for academic and non-academic journals, and is the author of several books, the first titled The Battle for Welfare Rights: Poverty and Politics in Modern America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). Commissioner Kornbluh’s is currently pursuing three major research projects. The first concerns gender, disability, and equality, with a focus upon Jacobus tenBroek, a blind activist and legal scholar who also contributed to the movement for welfare rights. The second, related, study is an overview of four major social movements—for the rights of women, LGBT people, African Americans, and disabled people—in the United States since 1945. The third is a planned museum exhibition focusing upon the political history of the New York City World’s Fair of 1964-1965 and the civil rights protests that disrupted it. Commissioner Kornbluh holds a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University and a B.A., with honors, in Social Studies from Harvard/Radcliffe. She has held fellowships from the American Bar Foundation, New York University Law School, the American Historical Association, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Before taking up her position at the University of Vermont, she taught for 8 years in the history department at Duke University. Commissioner Kornbluh has been an advocate on issues related to social welfare and women’s and children’s well-being for over twenty years. She served in Washington, D.C., as a staff member of the U.S. House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families. She worked at two major think tanks, the Urban Institute and Institute for Policy Studies. While still in high school, Commissioner Kornbluh had been a leader of the nationally renowned children’s advocacy organization Children's Express, and led children’s delegations to Cambodia, Hiroshima, and the Democratic and Republican political conventions in the United States.
Nancy E. LaVarnway
Commissioner LaVarnway is a Career Development Specialist at the South Burlington High School Career Development Center where she designs and implements programs providing educational experiences in both pre-professional (school-to-work) and community (Volunteers In Action) settings. She is experienced in all aspects of career development and experiential education in the public and private sectors including eighteen years in higher education, seven years in technical education and twenty-two in public (secondary) education. Prior to this work, she was the Academic Internship Coordinator at Saint Michael’s College, and worked in Career Development and Cooperative Education at Norwich University. Commissioner LaVarnway operated her own consulting business, CDS - Career Development Specialists, specializing in career counseling to individuals, businesses and educational institutions. Since 1994, Commission LaVarnway has been a member and (at-large) State of Vermont Director with the professional organization titled New England Association for Cooperative Education and Field Experience (NEACEFE). In addition, she holds an Honorary Life Member Award for Outstanding Leadership Contribution from that organization. Commissioner LaVarnway holds a M.Ed. from Norwich University and a BA from Westfield State University, Massachusetts with three educational endorsements in Cooperative Career and Technical Education (7-12), Social Science (7-12), Physical Education (K-12) and a HQT (Highly Qualified Teacher) status in Social Studies.
Commissioner Martel currently serves as President of Franklin County's branch of Business and Professional Women (BPW), which strives to achieve equity in the workplace through advocacy, education, and information. Commissioner Martel is currently employed as a Machinist at Superior Technical Ceramic while pursuing two college degrees: one in Business at Community College of Vermont, and the other in Nursing at the University of South Dakota in Brookings. After graduating from Vermont Technical College’s LPN Program in 2006, she worked at Birchwood Terrace Healthcare in Burlington. During her high school and college years she worked as a Licensed Nursing Assistant at Redstone Villa in St. Albans. Commissioner Martel plans to open her own hospice and palliative care facility in the St. Albans.
Commissioner Milne has lived in the town of Washington since 1964 and started Milne Travel in Barre in 1975. She has been active in her community for over 40 years. She's served as: Representative to the Vermont House from 1994 to 2000; the first woman President of Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce, where she was named a Life Member for her fundraising efforts since 1980; member of the Vermont Judicial Nominating Board from 1996 to 2002; and Business and Professional Women's Woman of the Year in 1980. She currently serves as: a Library Trustee (for thirty two years); member of the Governor's Commission on Healthy Aging since 1995; member on the Professional Responsibility Board (a state board appointed by the Supreme Court); Trustee for Washington-Electric Co-op since 2002; past President of the Community of Vermont Elders (COVE) and serves on the Board since 2001; and is an incorporator of the Northfield Savings Bank. She was co-chair of the Woman's Caucus in the Vermont Legislature and recipient of their Legislator of the Year award in 2000. Marion has served on the Vermont Advisory Board to US Civil Rights Commission for the last six years and has been elected as a Justice of the Peace in Washington for many years. In 2010 Marion and her husband Donald were named Citizens of the Year by the Town of Washington for their service to the State of Vermont and the Town of Washington. She is married to House Clerk Donald Milne.