Dorothy C. Gillam was born on December 23, 1933, in Keo, Lonoke County, Arkansas. She attended St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana.
She began her career at the Arkansas Teachers Association. At the same time, she worked for Universal Life Insurance Company and Perciful's. Gillam dedicated over four decades of her life to the Arkansas Department of Education, where she functioned in numerous positions, including executive secretary to the education commissioner, liaison to the State Board of Education, and administrative analyst. She assisted sixteen education commissioners during her tenure.